Wade Davis is an anthropologist and ethnobotinist. He is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. His work has taken him all over the world to study the planet's people and plant life. Davis has also worked as a river guide and forestry engineer and has published articles on a variety of subjects.
WHAT HE WAS LIKE AS A KID
I was curious, friendly, and open to new possibilities. I can’t recall having any sort of reluctance to trying anything new.
My heroes are people like Gary Snyder, the poet, and Peter Matthiessen, the writer. Growing up in Canada and with both my parents having been deeply impacted by World War II, Winston Churchill was my great hero. I’ve read everything he wrote and memorized his speeches.
HOW HE GOT INTO HIS FIELD
I’m an anthropologist, and what I study is the wonder of culture and the remarkable variety of human experiences that are brought into being by culture.
I grew up in Montreal, Canada, at a time when the French and English didn’t speak to each other. My neighborhood, an English-speaking neighborhood, was right next to an old French community, a village that went back to the 17th century. There’s a road that divided the two communities, and my mother would send me down to a corner store that was owned by an old, very kind, French-speaking couple. And I would sit there as a little boy, and look across that boulevard, and think, “across this road is another language, another religion, a whole other way of being,” and I was fascinated by that. I was also kind of haunted by the fact that my community had a subtle prohibition against crossing that road, and I’d been crossing that road all my life.
WHAT A NORMAL DAY IS LIKE
I feel very strongly that we are passionate about the stories that we tell with National Geographic, whether it’s Sylvia Earle with oceans, or the Jouberts with the great cats. In my case it’s about the plight of cultures around the world. And so, one way or another, my days rotate around some effort to tell a story. Whether those stories are told now as a professor at a university, or through books or films, every day is all about getting up and figuring out the best way to tell that story. An ordinary day for me always involves a certain amount of writing and a certain amount of dreaming, in a way, and a certain amount of planning for the next story that I intend to tell.
WHAT HE DOES FOR FUN
My greatest fun and joy is being with my children up at our fishing lodge where there’s no electricity, no phones, and we’re just on our own fishing, hunting, and hanging out.
FAVORITE PLACE HE HAS BEEN
Cusco, Peru, in the southern Andes. In general, I think we’re often drawn in a very powerful way back to the place where our imagination was first kindled with the possibilities of a new way of life. I went to Peru when I was very young, and I had such a wonderful time.
WHAT HE CAN’T TRAVEL WITHOUT
I can’t travel without a diary to write in and a camera to take photographs.
Despair is an insult to the imagination. Creativity is the consequence of action. Always follow your own compass, so that you can look back over a long life and know that you lived a life of your own creation rather than having responded to the pressures of other people.
MOST HEART-POUNDING EXPERIENCE
One time, I was flying through the middle of the Amazon in a decrepit DC-3 plane, and I had to alert the pilot that one of his engines was on fire and about to blow up!