the book reviews
I like to take a walk after supper in the evenings. One summer night I was particularly eager to go out and find some high ground. It was a special evening. The sun and a full moon were both overhead at the same time. The sun was about 30 degrees above the horizon in the west, and the moon was at the same elevation in the south-east. A time of much power. I found a good vantage point, in the middle of a quiet intersection. I was in front of a house that had a garden full of strange vegetation. I had seen it many times on my walks. I could only guess at the species. As I stood directly in the centre of the solar and lunar influences, I felt a presence. I looked down and noticed another man standing in the middle of the street. It was obvious that we were doing the same thing. We laughed and greeted each other. He was a rugged looking person with a god-like beard and a ready smile. He had a PhD in botany and was a specialist on psychotropic vegetation. We had a spirited conversation, in which I learned much. The book I will speak about is, One River, by Wade Davis. He is also the author of, The Serpent and the Rainbow. That book was made into a movie and is about the voudoun religion of Haiti. Wade is a native of my town, Vancouver, and he probably was a source of inspiration for the man I met, while watching the moon and sun. Wade studied botany at Harvard, and his mentor was, Richard E. Schultes. Wade and a colleague followed in Schultes' footsteps, through some of the most remote parts of Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. The book, One River, tells about these scientific adventures. The book is a fascinating blend of memoir, field notes, recollections, and history. To all this, add geology, geography, and humor. Mostly, it is a tribute to Dr. Schultes. If you look at the Latin names of South American species of vegetation, many have the name, schultesii. You will learn the history of the rubber industry. You will also learn about the critical job done by Schultes, for America's rubber program. You will be amazed to learn how much we depend on this commodity. During the Second World War, after the conquest of Malaysia, America had only three months supply of rubber. Schultes was sent to the jungle by the American government, with orders to find new varieties of wild rubber. The book also tells of the brutalities that were inflicted upon the aboriginals of South America by greedy rubber barons. By the example of Schultes, we learn that it is possible to achieve a dialogue with mutual respect between a Harvard scientist, and a medicine man from the Vaupés River. You will learn about coca, ayahuasca (yagé), peyote, teonanacatyl, and all kinds of psychoactive vegetation. A most intriguing thing: Schultes learned that aboriginals classify vegetation in an entirely different way than scientists do. There is a type of psychoactive vine in Colombia. According to the locals, it has many varieties; but no differences can be detected by modern methods of taxonomy. One variety gives you a vision of being a condor, and it is appropriately named in the local dialect. Another variety turns you into a jaguar, and another was described, "It is like being shot out of a rifle, that is lined with baroque paintings, and falling into a sea of electricity." A native can distinguish these different varieties at a distance of twenty-five meters. Schultes tried many of these substances and his usual comment was, "I see colours. Nothing more." He did not allow malaria, beri-beri, hostile natives, bureaucrats, or waterfalls to stop him. He never carried a weapon. I hope you enjoy this wonderful book!
Copyright © 2019 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.