[click "Play" to hear Wade Davis' conversation with Susan]
In Telluride, simply saying “Wade Davis” is like incanting “Open Sesame,” the name unlocking doors of the mind. Mountainfilm in Telluride executive director Peter Kenworthy described Davis as a “Renaissance man,” a defensive move, because the actual list of accolades and credits that adhere to the man could fill the Manhattan telephone book.
At Mountainfilm’s annual fundraiser, Davis anchors a program that highlights five projects recently awarded $5,000 each. One of the projects is Sacred Headwaters, Sacred Journey, a photographic exposition by Paul Colangelo of the shared birthplace of three of British Columbia’s great salmon-bearing rivers, the Stikine, Skeena and Nass. The Stikine Valley, sacred to the First Nations, is one of the largest predator-prey ecosystems in North America. This area is now threatened by resource development. Colangelo’s project is especially near and dear to Davis, a native of British Columbia and frequent visitor to the region that has been called “The Serengeti of the North.”
The event takes place December 26, 5:30 – 8 p.m. In addition to clips and shorts from the projects, the evening includes hors d’oeuvres and an open bar and huge discounts on sponsor merchandise – Wagner skis, Osprey and JanSport packs, First Ascent down jackets – plus one-off opportunities like a lunch with Tom Shadyac, a kayak trip with Hayley Shephard and a day climbing with Steve House. There are also amazing festival packages from Mountainfilm’s lodging partners.
Telluride Inside… and Out met Davis in 1997 during an interview for his first ever visit to the town he took by storm. Back then, the subject was his latest book, One River, a tribute to the life and work of one of Davis’ mentors, the legendary explorer/botanist Richard Evan Schultes. One River chronicles the discoveries Davis and protege Tim Plowman made on their odyssey through the Amazonian jungle in the mid-1970s. Since then, there have been many other books and many miles traveled. With Davis, the sky’s the limit. Well, maybe not. The man is unstoppable.
Wade Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, in addition to “Renaissance man,” he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” In recent years Davis’ work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland.
An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, (and licensed river guide), Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among 15 indigenous groups in 8 Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing Passage of Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture.
His latest book is The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, the 2009 Massey lectures. He currently is fulfilling a two-book contract with Knopf (USA). A history of the early British efforts on Everest will be published in 2011. (Watch for stories about the Everest book in upcoming posts.)
When not in the field, Davis and his wife Gail Percy, a polarity therapist, divide their time between Washington, D.C., Vancouver and a fishing lodge in the Stikine Valley of northern British Columbia. They have two children.
To learn more about the man, his current project to save the remote reaches of northern British Columbia, and the role Telluride Mountainfilm played in shaping Davis’ career, click the “play” button and listen to his interview.
photos of Landscape and Grizzly by Paul Colangelo