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Wade Davis, anthropologist, author and photographer, in Clarence Square in Toronto on Friday, November 18, 2011. (Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)
Wade Davis, anthropologist, author and photographer, in Clarence Square in Toronto on Friday, November 18, 2011. (Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)

At the Editorial Board

Author Wade Davis: on writing and mountaineering Add to ...

Q: Do you miss Haiti?

No. In the middle of the media frenzy about zombies and accusations of fraud, which were completely ridiculous, my mentor said, do you want to be a zombie-ologist, running around Haiti defending the graveyards. I said no. I had said what I had to say. I had written two books, spent four years there. It was very hazardous. I had malaria and hepatitis. My main information was head of Tonton Macoutes.. for one fifth of the country.

Q: What pointed you as a young person to this life?

I grew up in Quebec in the late 1960s in Pointe Claire, a suburban Anglo community plunked in an old traditional French village, divided into two worlds. I remember as a little boy thinking that if I crossed the street, there was another language, religion, way of life, haunted by prohibition from my culture against crossing that divide. I went to Lower Canada College school and they wouldn’t let a Quebecker teach you French because it wasn’t real French. It was ridiculous.

Q: What about your home life?

I grew up in a simple home. My father hated his work, he called it the grind. He would get up tin the morning, commute to work in grey, flannel suit, come back , drink a couple of drinks, get up next day and do it all over again. He was a kind, ethical man. He worked for Royal Trust Company and he advised individuals with their pensions and investments. I loved my father. He spent half his savings to send me to college. And I get an undergrad degree and I take the lowest job in logging camp on Haida G’wai. He died with review of my book in his pocket from Victoria Times Colonist. His example he had lived the classic life of quiet desperation. And I learned early on if I were to not have that life I would have to jump off cliffs. I am not being indulgent but he didn’t teach me to fish or hike. He knew he wasn’t the man to teach me what I needed to know and he was never envious of all these mentors. My life was made by men that became my mentors.

Q: What about your siblings?

My sister became a lawyer, inheriting my father’s ethics. She became British Columbia’s ombudsperson. My sister is the most ethical, honest, strong person. My mother was fiercely ambitious and her father died during Spanish influenza and her family myth was he would be PM of Canada, but he was a hot-shot lawyer in the [Peter]Lougheed family firm and would have had good road ahead of him. My father’s father was a surgeon and a doctor and town doctor of the mining town of Kimberley. My father never did what he wanted to do. He was part of the broken generation. He spent all that money to send me to Harvard knowing that every day it would widen the social chasm between us. He never lived to see all those books come out.

It’s not hard to feel emotional about what happened to all those young men during the war, 10,000 a month died. This is the birth of modernity. All the work I have done with cultures is about, what is modernity, is it absolute wave of history, or expression of a certain way of thinking.

Q: What is your next project?

My next project is The Sacred Headwaters, about fighting to save Northwest British Columbia. A beautiful photo book. Not my pictures. Internationally-known photographers. I am hoping to get formal permission to publisher Oliver Wheeler’s journals and letters to his wife and add his photos taken on Everest. I have a contract to do book on my photography. I have a little book on the Grand Canyon in Colorado.

Q: Did Mallory make the summit?

A: No. I know he would never have abandoned Sandy Irvine. It was against everything he believed in as a mountaineer. I don’t see how Sandy could have made it up or could have climbed down from the second step. It is always more dangerous going down than up. It is beyond imagining. But we will never know.

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