what is is about Nasca?


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

Preview… Desert Voices – A novel of ancient Nasca


There is no evidence of any writing system in South America before 1532. After the Spaniards arrived, history recorded the brief and dramatic reign of the conquered Inca, but little is known of the many other cultures that had risen and endured for centuries before the Inca Empire. What we do know has been pieced together by archaeologists and anthropologists who decipher history from the pottery, textiles and constructions left behind.

Patya’s story unfolds in the sixth century AD on the southern coast of what is now known as Peru. The creative and resourceful Nasca culture has been flourishing for almost a thousand years, populating the narrow valleys carved by rivers that cross the desert on their way from the Andes mountains to the Pacific Ocean. In recent years, a series of droughts and weather anomalies have taken a heavy toll on the Nasca people. Fields lie barren, wells have gone dry, and raiders from the highlands have been foraging into Nasca territory, hunting their game and raiding their livestock.

 Nasca pottery is known for its rich colors and imaginative designs. Above is the art from a ceramic vase depicting a tangle of flying anthropomorphic supernatural beings  wearing headdresses and nose ornaments, carrying severed heads, knives, slings for weapons, and sprouting cactus-like snakes. The  rich mythological world of the Nasca was very much part of their living landscape, and ceremonial offerings an integral part of their community.


advancing, advancing, advancing…

current focus:
using beta reader feedback for final revisions of Desert Voices, my novel of sixth century Nasca – wherein an unexpected heroine helps her people confront the environmental disasters that fan the flames of cultural and spiritual crisis.
also thinking about potential title changes…
now that the cactus has bloomed, it seems to call for a new image
…oh yes, the cactus, too, has its voice
a modern reproduction of linewalking
and those shapes etched across the desert?
great paths for ritual walkings … as reproduced here
several years ago by the students of Jose Lancho Rojas
one of Nascas’ best known historians

when the cactus blooms

So, about the time my Nasca novel takes its tentative steps out into the world, a cactus in my roof sprouts a small bud that gets hairier by the day. Not like a new arm about to sprout, but a sign that a flower is in the making.

That little round bud hinted at the promise of a bloom for a few weeks, then suddenly began to grow. And grow. More than an inch a day for a week. Amazing to watch. As if the entire cactus were shooting its life force into the unlikely looking sprout that launched itself outward.

cactus bloom
a cactus about to bloom

Cactus in bloom

It unfolded last night into an explosion of white, and by tonight, it had retreated back into the outstretched arm, folded back into itself and disappeared.

Sometimes things feel laden with meaning.



The awe at nature’s art.

San Pedro Cactus flower
a one day show

I first starting growing this variety of cactus when I realized it was such an ubiquitous part of Nasca culture. I wanted to surround myself with things that would keep me connected to the time and place I was writing about. I googled the cactus, learned what I could, and even found a video of one of its glorious flowers unfolding. A night bloom destined to last no more than a day or two. I visited literal cactus forests in the desert and saw some in bloom, but dreamed of one day witnessing one unfold from close up. I even wrote such a scene into the book.

Six years later, the book is finished, and the cactus burst into bloom.

It’s hard not to feel that there is somehow a connection.

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