National Geographic : 2017 Dec
88 NaTIONal gEOgrapHIC • DECEMbEr 2017 a phrase that does no justice to the feeling of be- ing ushered into another world, in my case, not the world of jaguar spirits but the secret king- dom of the plants. I felt I suddenly understood what it’s like to worm through the dark, claus- trophobic realm of roots; to reach up through cathedral-like vaults of shadow and light like the tendrils of an understory vine. And what it’s like to know, as one intrinsically knows love or grief, that plants are as alive as any animal, simmering with intelligence, with sentience, with what tru- ly seemed a kind of spirit. I felt myself swept up in what the poet Dylan Thomas famously described as “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” giv- en to understand that there is a genius in the universe much larger than our own, ascending orders of genius braided into the DNA of every living thing. I heard other people singing out as if in celebration of the same epiphany; voices around the maloca breaking into song—hymns in Spanish sung by Peruvians who lived near- by and came to ceremonies two or three times a week; the chants of Maestro Juan and his ap- prentices; and some of the most exquisite word- less arias I have ever heard, icaros improvised in the moment, reverberating with joy, glistening like orchids made of sound. I sTaYED up almost till dawn scribbling in my journal, knowing that nothing I could write would convey the beauty and strangeness of the night, the cascades of insight, the avalanches of laughter that overtook me when I realized the absurdity of my blinkered materialism and the n Society Grant Your National Geographic Society membership helped fund this project.