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One River - Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest

Wade Davis

Pages: 540
Price: $27.50
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pub Date: 1996
ISBN: 0684808862

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Table of Contents >
1. Juan's Farewell
2. Mountains of the Elder Brother
3. The Peyote Road, 1936
4. Flesh of the Gods, 1938-39
5. The Red Hotel
6. The Jaguar's Nectar
7. The Sky is Green and the Forest Blue, 1941-42
8. The Sad Lowlands
9. Among the Waorani
10. White Blood of the Forest
11. The Betrayal of the Dream, 1944-54
12. The Blue Orchid, 1947-48
13. The Divine Leaf of Immortality
14. One River

Notes on Sources
Description >
Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest

Fine biography of Richard Evans Schultes and history of South American ethnobotany. Compelling story by long-time student of both (author of The Serpent and the Rainbow). Starts in 1936 when young Schultes studies peyote use and Mexican mushroom rituals. Great true stories from Schultes' 12 years and the author's 8 years of travel in Amazon basin, learning about ayahuasca, coca, other active plants, and the sad rubber scandal. Good reading science and adventure. Notes and index.  - Mind Books

The subject of this book is "Timothy Plowman, a young ethnobotanist who died while looking for medicinal plants in the South American rain forests. . . . Plowman was the . . . protege of Richard Evans Schultes, . . . {an authority} on hallucinogenic plants and the Amazon rain forest. The author mixes the backgrounds and travels of the two men with sociology of South American tribes and their sacred plants." - (Libr J) Index.

In 1974-75, Wade Davis and Tim Plowman traveled the length of South America, living among a dozen Indian tribes, collecting medicinal plants and searching for the origins of coca, the sacred leaf of the Andes and the notorious source of cocaine. It was a journey inspired and made possible by their Harvard mentor, Richard Evans Schultes, the most important scientific explorer in South America in this century, whose exploits rival those of Darwin and the great naturalist explorers of the Victorian age. In 1941, after having identified ololiuqui, the long-lost Aztec hallucinogen, and having collected the first specimens of teonanacatl, the sacred mushroom of Mexico, Schultes took a leave of absence from Harvard and disappeared into the Northwest Amazon of Colombia. Twelve years later, he returned from South America, having gone places no outsider had ever been, mapping uncharted rivers and living among two dozen Indian tribes. He collected some twenty thousand botanical specimens, including three hundred species new to science, and documented the invaluable knowledge of native shamans. The world's leading authority on plant hallucinogens, Schultes was for his students a living link to a distant time when the tropical rain forests stood immense, inviolable, a mantle of green stretching across entire continents. It was a world greatly changed by the time Davis and Plowman began their journey, nearly thirty years later, and changed further today. - Publisher

Reviews/Excerpts >

While not technically a biography, this is the story of Timothy Plowman, a young ethnobotanist who died while looking for medicinal plants in the South American rain forests. The author, who explored with Plowman in 1974 and 1975, tells a vivid story of adventure, Amerindian culture, and, to a lesser extent, the social and political climate surrounding Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s. Plowman was the brilliant protg of Richard Evans Schultes, one of the world's leading authorities on hallucinogenic plants and the Amazon rain forest. The author mixes the backgrounds and travels of the two men with sociology of South American tribes and their sacred plants. Because use of hallucinogenic plants is described, this is not a book for young people. For adults, it's a fascinating story of ethnobotanical exploration and an excellent real-life tale of science out of the laboratory, and only peripherally the sad story of a brilliant life lost to AIDS (Plowman contracted the disease as a result of pretrip inoculations). It also reveals the effects of development on the dwindling rain forests and their endangered cultures. Recommended for large collections.Laura E. Lipton, Center for Urban Horticulture, Seattle

The book is hagiographic, a rarity nowadays. But unqualified praise is acceptable for someone so admirable and peerless {as Mr. Schultes}. . . . Mr. Davis does full justice to his mentor. An excellent botanist, he learned from Mr. Schultes and Plowman to gain the confidence of shamans and medicine men, to record their mythology and rituals and to experience days of mind-blowing trips and retching nausea--all in the name of science. He writes magnificently,with verve when describing his many adventurous field trips, accurately and efficiently when telling science or history, and with vivid fantasy when portraying hallucinogenic trances. - From John Hemming - The New York Times Book Review

The prodigious biological and cultural riches of the vast Amazon rain forest are being lost at a horrendous rate, according to the author, often without yielding their secrets to the Western world. During his years in the South American jungle, ethnobotanist Davis (The Serpent and the Rainbow) has done much to preserve some of these treasures. He tells two entwined tales herehis own explorations in the '70s and those of his mentor, the great Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, beginning in the '30s. Both men have been particularly interested in the psychoactive and medicinal properties of the plants of the Amazon basin and approach their subject with a reverence for the cultural context in which the plants are used. The contrasting experiences of two explorers, a mere generation apart, starkly demonstrates how much has already been destroyed in the rain forest. Although Schultes probably knew more about Amazonian plants than any Western scientist, he was constantly learning of new ones and new uses for them from native experts. Davis graphically describes the brutal clash of cultures from Columbian times to the present, often so devastating for indigenous peoples, that has defined this region. At times humorous, at times depressing, this is a consistently enlightening and thought-provoking study. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.) - Publishers Weekly  

A fascinating narrative of the exploits of Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, interwoven with the much more benign adventure of his student, author and ethnobotanist Davis (The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1986).

Beginning in the middle 1930s and for the greater part of the next two decades, Schultes journeyed throughout the remote Amazonian jungle to study the psychoactive and medicinal plants used by its indigenous peoples. His discoveries—including the natural plant source for LSD—have filled the annals of ethnobotany and helped kick off the hallucinogenic era of the 1960s. Schultes survived beriberi, malaria, frequent capsizings, and airplane accidents. But perhaps his most adventurous and sometimes dangerous forays were into the psychoactive drug rituals of tribes located deep within the Colombian and Brazilian rainforests. Schultes was recruited by the US government in the late '30s to find and develop new, blight-resistant sources of rubber, a project that was foolishly abandoned, according to Davis, because of bureaucratic infighting and ineptitude. Faintly echoing Schultes's saga is Davis's account of his own 1970s expedition, when he accompanied the ethnobotanist Tim Plowman to the Andean regions of Peru and Colombia to collect specimans of coca and study its cultivation patterns; in the footsteps of their mentor, Schultes, both men sample the hallucinogenic effects of various potions, chew coca leaves, and find themselves in some dicey situations on mountain roads. These episodes are flavored with revealing histories of the brutal Spanish conquest and the more recent but equally gruesome enslavement of Indians to the rubber trade, and contain some sprightly written, at times dryly ironic travel prose. But Davis's own experiences pale by comparison with the main narrative and are interjected at seemingly random intervals.

Although Davis might have been better advised to scale down, this is an exceptional tale of 20th-century scientific exploration and a rousing travelogue to places both real and illusory. - Kirkus Reviews  


The idea for this book emerged in a moment of great sadness. Timothy Plowman was a man of generosity, kindness, modesty, and honor, and his untimely death at the age of forty-five from AIDS on January 7, 1989, cut short a career of immense promise. A superb ethnobotanist with an uncanny ability to gain the trust and confidence of Indian people, he was the protege of Richard Evans Schultes, the greatest ethnobotanist of all, a man whose expeditions a generation earlier had earned him a place in the pantheon along with Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Bates, and his own hero, the indefatigable English botantist and explorer Richard Spruce.

Twelve days after Tim's death a memorial service was held at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. ... Tim's death was especially difficult for Schultes, who in his wisdom understood that the student is as important as the teacher in the lineage of knowledge. The people in the chapel. botanists and friends, sat quietly as his tired voice came over the speakers. He ended with the famous lines from Hamlet: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. It was then, as I stood at the podium, that I decided to write a book that would tell the story of these two remarkable men. (page 11)

The daughter of a Connecticut country doctor and only twenty-four, [Eunice Pike] had been living in Huautla for two years and intended to stay for however long it took to master the Mazatec language. Her goal was to translate the New Testament, a task she addressed with all her time and energy. She had no interest in buying converts with aluminum pots and modern trinkets. She was honest enough to know that most conversions were shallow and ephemeral, less transformations of the spirit than triumphs of expediency.

Once I tried to explain heaven to a young woman, she said, smiling, as she poured Schultes a cup of tea. I said it was a beautiful place, a place where there are no tears. She asked whether I had been there. I said no. I explained that only the dead know heaven. Then she looked at me with the saddest face. She said she was so sorry for me. And she left almost in tears.

How strange, Schultes said.

It was only later I realized that most Mazatec actually claim to have been to heaven.

With the mushrooms?

Yes. They believe Jesus speaks through the mushrooms, that their visions are messages from God. What was it you called them?

Teonanacatl, Schultes said. Some believe it means *flesh of the gods.'

In Mazatec, the mushrooms have several names. One translates roughly as *the little holy ones.'

Have you ever seen them?

No, she said.

What about the effects? What do people say?

She held his eyes and for a moment said nothing. Then with a sign of resignation she explained, There are things we know that we cannot know. Christianity is a thin veneer over the lives of these people. I've heard them singing at night. They always begin with the Lord's Prayer. The leader will say she has the heart of Christ and is the daughter of the Virgin Mary. But then in the next moment she is the daughter of the moon and stars, snake woman, bird woman, whatever. She smiled and began to laugh softly.

It doesn't disturb you? Schultes asked.

Yes, of course, she said, But, then, no. I mean, how can it, really? When I first came here I complained about the use of mushrooms to an old man. Do you know what he told me?

No, Schultes smiled.

He said, *But what else could I do? I needed to know God's will, and I don't know how to read.'

They both laughed.

So how does one get the message of God to a people who seem to have something far more spectacular and immediate than anything we have to offer? She asked the question he had wanted to but hadn't dared.

With difficulty, I suspect, he said. What do the padres say?

Oh, the Catholics have it even worse. It's hard enough to translate the meaning of the Last Supper, but the Eucharist! Compared to the mushrooms, bread and wine must seem rather tame.

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

I once was waiting for an airplane, and I started to sing a hymn. It was one no Mazatec knew. I had just translated it. Two of the women said, Isn't it Beautiful! How lovely! It's just like the mushroom. I turned and rather piously told them that it wasn't like the mushroom. That God and Jesus were different. But they wouldn't listen. Can you imagine what they said?

No, said Schultes, ready for anything.

They said, *We mean, wasn't it gracious for the mushroom to teach you that song.' (pages 105-106).

CSP's Entheogen Chrestomathy entry for One River

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