Wade Davis

reading up on ethnobotanist, photographer, anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis.  This guy goes to all the best conferences.

It’s interesting how these things change though. I find it fascinating that there is this ayahuasca phenomenon, it’s literally sweeping Europe and sweeping the United States. I meet young people who take ayahuasca and they speak so positively about the experience whereas I remember the whole point of ayahuascawas facing down the jaguar, being ripped away from the tit of jaguar woman. That was sort of what its point was.

I think our reaction to these substances can change over time too, almost as age cohorts move though. I’m someone who’s very happy to say that not only did I used psychedelics and enjoyed them but that they changed my life. I don’t think I would speak the way I speak, write the way I write, synthesise information the way I do, understand those notions of cultural relativism as reflexively as I do, if I hadn’t taken psychedelics.

I often think it’s interesting that if we look at the social changes of the last 30 years – everything from new attitudes towards the environment, new sense of the holistic integration of the Earth, women going from the kitchen to the board room, people of colour from the woodshed to the Whitehouse, gay people from the closet to the alter, that we always leave out of the recipe of social change that millions of people all around the world lay prostrate before the gates of awe after having taken some psychedelic.

We came out of a place with profound alienation of our cultures, experimenting with psychedelics in a very fresh way – there was not a lot of expectation. We rediscovered lots of new drugs and just tried them on ourselves so there were a number of things we could say we were the first to take. Not that I want to dwell on that, but the idea that were trying to find some idea of what it means to be human.

And also cultural relativism and just the idea that other peoples of the world aren’t failed attempts at being you, that comes powerfully from the psychedelic experience. I one point I remember I took some big heroic dose of some drug, I can’t remember exactly, San Pedro I think, and I was stopped by my friend just before I could send a telegram to my professor at Harvard that was going to say ‘Eureka! We’re all ambulatory plants!’ I don’t think that would have really got me too far.


This is good, too:

In his early 20s, Davis says he was so mixed up that he applied to both botany and law school at the University of B.C.

On one occasion, he stopped at the Vancouver law firm where his sister was articling. A receptionist demanded to know if he was the man who travelled in the Amazon and ate weird plants. Davis said he was.

She then marched him into a dusty law library, showed him a picture of an 18th-century English solicitor with a wig and crooked nose, and asked him if that’s what he wanted to become.

“I went back to the front desk, called UBC law school and retracted my application,” he says. “Thanks to that guardian angel, I went to graduate school in botany.”

(That, and top picture, from The Province, photo by Jenelle Schneider)

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