Wade Davis- One River

“Juan had a brother, Roberto, who was a carpenter, the only one I ever knew who took wind into account before driving a nail.”


“”Life is an empty glass,” Juan would say. “It’s up to you how fast you fill it.””


“In Columbia there are no train schedules, only rumors.  The guide books maintain that there is no train service out of Medellin to the Caribbean coast.  I was quite sure there was and did my best to get to the train station at an hour that made sense to Juan.”


“It is by reputation a seedy place [Santa Marta], noisy by night, somnolent by day, and saturated at all hours by the scent of corruption.”


“I do remember that in one corner of the room there was a beautiful woman naked to the waist typing a manuscript.  Her name was Teza.  She was an artist who lived with Tim.  He later published here botanical illustrations of new species that he had discovered.  They were the only drawings I ever saw that captured the feel of wind on paper.”


“The first scent of the lowlands, moisture, and the slow flow of the river working its way around the trestles of the railroad, carrying pieces of the forest to the sea.”


“Beneath the jumbled clutter typical of any Latin American town, the city has a rakish charm that makes it difficult to believe a man’s life can be had for a hundred dollars.”


“”Oh no,” he said without a touch of bitterness in his voice.  “You don’t ever lose a woman like her even if you want to.  You just wait till she rolls back over your life.””


“The men who crossed an ocean to conquer America were the ones that Europe, for all its depravity, could not kill. . .In the southern Andes of Bolivia, on a mountain of silver once sacred to the Inca, an average of 75 Indians were to die every day for 300 years.”


“”The choice of words.  What they mean.  There’s a tribe in Uruguay, one of the Guarani groups, whose word for soul was ‘the sun that lies within.”


“”Everything begins add ends with the loom,” Tim said, . . .”For the Kogi, a person’s thoughts are like threads.  The act of spinning is the act of thinking.  The cloth they weave and the clothes they wear become their thoughts.  Listen to this.”  He opened his notebook and began to read.


I shall weave the fabric of my life,

I shall weave it white as a cloud;

I shall weave some black into it;

I shall weave dark maize stalks into it;

I shall weave maize stalks into the white cloth;

Then I shall obey divine law.”

                                                      [Kogi prayer]


[Peyote trip]: “For many, the senses become confused, sounds became visions, colors became taste, touch became rhythm.  “Each audible stroke of the pendulum produced an explosion of color.  The beat of the drum increased the beauty of the visions, the low notes of the piano produced hallucinations of violet, while high notes give rise to rose and white.””


“The scent was as rich as memory.”


“Prisoner of reality.”


“How strange to have had so little sleep, to have experienced such hallucinations, to have known nothing that was normal and yet feel so little fatigue.”


“Before the arrival of the Spaniards, these mountains were known as the Land of the Deer.  The Mazatec venerated the animals as gods; hunting was forbidden, and as result thousands of tame deer wandered over the land.  When the Spaniards came, the shamans stole their souls and hid them inside the deers thus ensuring that as the creatures were slaughtered, the killers would doom themselves.”


“Schultes laughed once more.  What an extraordinary woman, he thought- a missionary who could laugh, one who could love God without hating people.”


“At Yaveo the expedition remained for several days as Schultes consolidated his specimens and nursed several open sores on his head that had begun to fester.  Three days previously, upon reaching San Juan Lalana late in the evening, he had been surprised to notice the Indians bedding down beneath mosquito nets.  It was cold, mountainous country, hardly the habitat normally associated with malaria.  Too exhausted to bother with his net, Schultes had collapsed in his hammock, only to be awaken in the morning with his hair encrusted with congealed blood.  He had been bitten by five vampire bats.  Not actually bitten, as he had explained to the Chinantec.  The bats feed at night, and to ensure that their victims do not awaken, they hover over the point of attack, beating their wings vigorously to create a flow of air that partially numbs the surface of the skin.  Each bat then makes a quick incision with a single razor-sharp tooth.  Their saliva contains an anticoagulant.  Vampire bats do not actually suck blood, they lap it up as it flows unimpeded from wounds.  His Chinantec hosts were less than pleased by this explanation.  How, they asked Guadalupe, could a human being know so much about a bat?”


“Thus on June 29, 1955, Wasson and his photographer, Allen Richardson, became the first outsiders to ingest mushrooms in a sacred context. . .In the stillness of the night, with the rain falling softly on the thatch roof, this humbled New York banker struggled to find words to describe his “soul shattering experience.”  They did not exist.  Months later he would write, “We are all confined within the prison walls of our everyday vocabulary.  With skill in our choice of words, we may stretch accepted meanings to cover slightly new feelings but when the state of mind is utterly distinct, then our words fail.  How can you tell a man who has been born blind what it is like to see?””


“Most of our outings were less eventful, of course, and the quiet hours of the night were the rare moments of peace and forgetfulness.  Free of language, with no friction to our thoughts, we shared a strange solitude, a life momentarily drained of volition, as elements of the sea.  At the time I had little energy for new sensations.”


“It was during those days that I first experienced the overwhelming grandeur of the tropical rain forest.  It is a subtle thing.  There are no herds of ungulates as on the Serengeti plains, no cascades of orchids- just a thousand shades of green, an infinitude of shape, form and texture that so clearly mocks the terminology of temperate botany.  It is almost as if you have to close your eyes to behold the constant hum of biological activity- evolution, if you will- working in overdrive.”


[Driving in Bogota]: “For men who believe that horns are brakes and headlights too precious to be used, the drivers seemed unusually determined.”


“”What the padres don’t realize,” he said, “is that we have many lives, only one of which may be claimed by death.””


“In a prose that is today archaic in tone but thoroughly modern in sentiment, he noted that “the naturalist, interested in plants and animals, both close to the Indians preoccupations, usually is immediately accepted with excessive collaborative attention.  These leaders are gentlemen, and all that is required to bring out their gentle manliness is reciprocal gentle manliness.  Until the unsavory veneer of western culture surreptitiously introduces the greed, deception and exploitation that so often accompanies the good ways foreign to these men of the forests, they preserve characteristics that must only be looked upon envy by modern civilized societies.””


“The three-toed sloth is a gentle herbivore.  Its slow movement, together with its cryptic coloration, protects it from its major predator, the harpy eagle.  Viewed up close, the sloth appears as a hallucination, an ecosystem unto itself that softly vibrates with hundreds of exoparasites.  The animal’s mottled appearance is due part to a blue-green alga that lives symbiotically within the hollow hairs.  A dozen variety of arthropods burrow beneath its fur; a single sloth weighing a mere ten pounds may be home to over a thousand beetles.  The life cycles of these insects are completely tied to the daily round of the sloth.  With its excruciatingly slow metabolism, the sloth defecates only once a week.  The animal climbs down from the canopy, excavates a small depression at the foot of the tree, voids its feces, and then returns back up.  Mites, beetles, and even a species of moth leap off the sloth, deposit an egg in the dung, and climb back onto their host for a ride up the tree.  The eggs germinate, and in one way or another, the young insects find another sloth to call home.”


“The tropical rain forest, though home to tens of thousands of species, is a sense a counterfeit paradise, a castle of immense biological sophistication built quite literally on foundation of sand.”


“Waorani medicine, in other words, operates on two quite different levels: the material and the immaterial.  At the root of their system is a non-Western of the origin and nature of disease.  For the Waorani, as for many indigenous people, good or bad health results not from the presence or absence of pathogens alone but from the proper or improper balance of the individual.  Health is harmony, a coherent state of equilibrium between the physical and spiritual components of the individual.  Sickness is disruption, imbalance, and the manifestation of malevolent forces in the flesh.”


“”They don’t what it means to destroy.””


“Even in the best of times the northern land route into Peru is dismal: mostly wretched towns surrounded by acres of shanties, roofless shelters woven from straw, split bamboo, and cane; truck stops black with grease and petrol; restaurants where soups costs more if the chickens are plucked; cemeteries where for want of wood the names of the dead are laid out in dark stones.”


“But in the countryside the animals [llamas] are still revered.  Once a year, on a special day in August, their owners join them in the corrals to drink and chew coca together.  The llamas are decorated with bright tassels and given a special concoction of barley mash, chicha, medicinal herbs and cane alcohol.  The men make the offering, holding the animals down as bottles of brew are poured into their throats.  By the end of the day both man and beast are completely drunk, and together they stagger out of the corral, following their other companions, laughing, singing, dancing.”


“For the Runakuna, the people of the Andes, matter is fluid.  Bones are not death but life crystalized, and thus potent source of energy, like a stone charged by lightning or a plant brought into being by the sun.  Water is vapor, a miasma of disease and mystery, but in its purest state it is ice: the shape of snowfields on the flanks of the mountains, the glaciers that are the highest and most sacred destination of the pilgrims.”


-“One River“ -Wade Davies