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Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire

Shadows in the Sun: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire

by Wade Davis

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Wade Davis has been called "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life's diversity." In Shadows in the Sun, he brings all of those gifts to bear on a fascinating examination of indigenous cultures and the interactions between human societies and the natural world.

Ranging from the British Columbian wilderness to


Wade Davis has been called "a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life's diversity." In Shadows in the Sun, he brings all of those gifts to bear on a fascinating examination of indigenous cultures and the interactions between human societies and the natural world.

Ranging from the British Columbian wilderness to the jungles of the Amazon and the polar ice of the Arctic Circle, Shadows in the Sun is a testament to a world where spirits still stalk the land and seize the human heart. Its essays and stories, though distilled from travels in widely separated parts of the world, are fundamentally about landscape and character, the wisdom of lives drawn directly from the land, the hunger of those who seek to rediscover such understanding, and the consequences of failure.

As Davis explains, "To know that other, vastly different cultures exist is to remember that our world does not exist in some absolute sense but rather is just one model of reality. The Penan in the forests of Borneo, the Vodoun acolytes in Haiti, the jaguar Shaman of Venezuela, teach us that there are other options, other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the earth." Shadows in the Sun considers those possibilities, and explores their implications for our world.

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Kirkus Reviews
The wonders of the diversity of various cultures and their relationship to their landscapeþfrom the high Arctic and the northern forests to the swamps of the Orinocoþare hunted, gathered, and honestly appreciated here by the peripatetic Davis (One River, 1996). Davis is a sojourner in remote places. He tarries, hoping to get a taste of the intimate, deep reverence for the home place that indigenous people experience by staying put, to sample some of the mythopoetic associations and enigmatic happenings that spring like gifts from the land for those who sit still long enough to witness. Here he recounts a dozen journeys, some in search of ethnobotanicals, some to expose himself to the poetics of a particular patch of ground, others to get a psychic education, as when he accompanies the Haitian Vodouns in their pilgrimage to sacred places, both terrestrial and ethereal. There is a good profile of Bruno Manser, a Swiss who went to live among Sarawak's Penan and joined them in their fight against the pillagers (many of them governmental) of their forest, thus becoming "a fugitive straddling the cusp of cultures." That same place, the shear zone, is inhabited by hamans, and Davis has been disturbed and fascinated in many of his travels by these men and women operating outside our familiar calculus of explanation. And as an ethnobotanist, he is drawn to the human potential unleashed by profoundly altered statesþfirewalking, slowing heartbeats to near imperceptible levelsþand the psychotropics that serve as launch pads. One such hallucinogen comes from a monstrous toad that secretes a drug from glands on its head; it seems very handy for a quick slurp, but it turns outthat you have to toke the toad to get the best buzz. Davis's lovely, cubist, rich landscape portraits are also topographies of the spirit, conveying a sense of place, but perhaps even more, the music of place.

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Island Press
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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

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Angelita was not happy to learn that I intended to visit the Laguna Negra. Her concern was not that my presence might violate the sanctity of the lakes. She just didn't want the responsibility of explaining my disappearance to the police. What possible protection did I carry? What would keep me from becoming encantada, enchanted by the wind songs and turned into stone? The very thought of exposing oneself without the guidance of a maestro appalled her. I showed her my seguro, the small bottle of herbs and red perfume that her father-in-law had given me the morning after the ceremony. She was not impressed. Neither was Jorge Eduardo. But after a brief argument, he at least offered to go, provided I did not expect him to enter the lake. I agreed, and the two of us headed off.
The trail from Angelita's house at Talaneo passed for an hour over the open grasslands and through a series of moist fens and marshes before coming down on a small alpine lake, jet black and sunk in a depression at the base of a rocky escarpment. Clouds moved low over the water. The wind was picking up, and rain blew in great gusts over the lake. It was very cold, our clothes were wet, and the ground underfoot was sodden. Jorge Eduardo wrapped himself in a magenta poncho and sought shelter in the lee of a large boulder. I moved closer to the lakeshore. To please Angelita I held my seguro in my hand, but felt rather silly doing so. The lake in its solitude seemed utterly ordinary. The shoreline covered by brown tuits of ichu grass, the stones luminescent with lichens. Patches of Polylepis running up the creeks that drained into the far shore. The mountain spurs soaring above. Gentians, madders, violets, and heathers here below. In between the windswept surface of a simple lake.
The water was freezing. I tried to imagine pilgrims from the jungle and coast approaching such a place, stripping to their underwear, and standing in the cold drizzle as the maestro poured perfume and alcohol into the palms of their hands. A long invocation, the potion inhaled through the nose, their movement into the water, the ritual tossing into the lake of silver coins and sweet limes sprinkled with sugar. Plump matrons and young children, shaking with cold, drying off with damp rags, waiting for the blessing of the maestro before getting back into wet clothes. A spray of white powder. A cleansing with the maestro's swords. A ritual purification with amulets. A madman kneeling alone by the water, perhaps in the very spot where I stood, blowing sweet wine and perfume over the lagoon. The maestro ending the ceremony by again invoking the power of the lake, calling its protection down upon the patients, and blessing each one with a final libation, an herbal tincture poured from his seguro, and made from the plants that grew at his feet.
There was a yell, and I turned to see Jorge Eduardo, exposed amid the tussocks, waving for me to get away from the shore. I walked over and found him huddled behind the boulder. He said it was time to leave. I told him to wait a few more minutes, then returned to the lake, stripped off my clothes, and entered the water, for no other reason than to wash. It was very cold, and I was soon back on shore, shivering in the wind. Jorge Eduardo was horrified that I had entered the waters without proper protection, and I tried to make it up to him by walking directly back to Talaneo, not pausing in the rain to collect any plants. I recognized the gulf that lay between us. For me the Laguna Negra was a mountain lake. For him it was a repository of spiritual power of a decidedly ambivalent nature. Neither one of us was more correct than the other. We just came from different worlds.
pegapega mixed with honey was a strong remedy for respiratory ailments. A decoction of chagapa morada in aguardiente was taken specifically for yellow fever. For more general treatment of fever, they used its cousin chagapa roja, a different species of the same genus. There were scores of such medicines, employed in various combinations.
But for Angelita the boundary between the material world and that of the spirit was imprecise. A delicate member of the rush family, hierba de dominacion, the "herb of domination," lay a shroud of protection over the living, insulating the forces of white magic from the power of evil. Other plants of the lakes were employed magically as admixtures to San Pedro. The most important of these was hornamo, a powerful purgative taken when the power of the cactus ran wild and brought turmoil to the dreams of the pilgrim. There were dozens of plants known by this name, each with a specific epithet--the purple hornamo, the white form, the hornamo of the horse, the hornamo of the fox. All, it turned out, were species of Valeriana, a natural sedative. Taken in excessive dosage they bring on hallucinations and blind spasms of excitation. -->

Meet the Author

Wade Davis is Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. An ethnographer, photographer, filmmaker, and writer, he is author of the international bestsellers Into the Silence, Light at the Edge of the World, One River, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Shadows in the Sun, and other books. His articles have appeared in Outside, Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, Scientific American, and many other publications.

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