The questions I went in with when I started writing the novel Desert Voices had to do with: 1) what lead to the demise of the Nasca culture? 2) how would such an earth-honoring culture interpret the environmental crises that constantly plagued the region? and 3) what lessons can we apply to our current environmental challenges?
I read everything I could get my hands on, researched the evidence left behind, talked to archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, archaeobotanists and geologists. I spent the night atop their sacred mountain, visited thousand-year-old trees, and explored hidden valleys. I walked the Nazca lines in my head and scratch my own across wide stretches of beach.
I ended up with more questions than I started with.
I began mostly with curiosity about how the Nasca had managed to harness the underground waters that turned their desert valleys into productive fields; about why they had such a penchant for severed heads; and about which of all the theories the Nazca lines might be closest to the truth of how they were actually used.
But in the process, some new questions led me down some unexpected paths. The prevalence of orcas in their iconography prompted me to research the ocean’s top predator – which opened up a new world of understanding about the social structure of the species and also raised questions about interspecies communication.
The central role of the San Pedro cactus in their iconocraphy, remniscent of the Chavin culture, led me to explore the living cultures that still use the cactus in a ceremonial brew as a “visionary medicine” and who consider some plants to be teachers of wisdom and guides for healing.
And so the novel project became much more than a novel.
One of the first things that came out of my explorations was a documentary about the guarango, considered by some to be the “king of the desert”, the One Tree that not only unites the three worlds -the heavens above, the world below, and the place we inhabit in between- but that also provided food, shelter and fuel. I organized a trip through Ica and Nasca with documentary filmmaker Delia Ackerman, camerographer Juan Duran, and cultural anthropologist Jerome van der Zalm.
You can see the result here in the short film: The King of the Desert is Dying