My friend Mark Plotkin routinely invites me to visit the Amazon, where he works with the indigenous people of the rain forest to protect their habitat, but also to protect you and me, whose lives may be saved by drugs derived from its biodiversity and whose environment is at least partly protected by the massive amounts of CO2 it consumes.

I just as routinely decline because it is my view that “if it’s not paved, how safe can it be?”  If God had meant for me to visit the Amazon, She would have endowed me with courage.  Instead, I got good copy-editing skills (or so I flatter myself to think).

I tell you this by way of introduction to the 5- minute interview that accompanies a piece Mark wrote for Harvard Magazine — a profile of Alexander Hamilton Rice, who mapped Amazonia a century before Mark introduced the shamans to Google and GPS.  He did so, Mark recounts, braving “man-eating black caimans, vampire bats, riverine stingrays, giant piranhas, electric eels, ubiquitous sandflies, flesh-eating botfly larvae, burrowing toe fleas, tarantula hawk wasps, goliath bird-eating spiders, and tocandeira bullet ants” .

I read that list trying to select a hazard I could use for a sentence like, “I’m vaguely okay with the ??????’s, but draw the line at  flesh-eating botfly larvae.”  But there was not a single item I could contemplate being okay encountering.  Indeed, I was unable even to rank-order their awfulness.  They all ranked first.  Tarantula hawk wasps?  Burrowing toe fleas?  Bird-eating spiders???

Which is why I will continue proudly to support Mark’s highly effective Amazon Conservation Team as long as I can (and you should, too, with money you can truly afford to contribute); and why I will never accept one of his invitations.

Ever.  (Victor: don’t even think about it.)


[The stock market is closed today and you know the rules: I only have to write these things when it’s open.  So this is in all likelihood tomorrow’s post.]



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