This post was written by James Polster, author of A Guest In The Jungle, a novel that “explores the intense nuances of the conflict between civilization and nature”. A Guest In The Jungle has just been reissued, and Jim was kind enough to tell us a bit about how the book came to be in the first place. Take it away Jim:
In the early days of the environmental movement, I didn’t know there was an environmental movement. Didn’t even know anyone who considered these issues.
It was the early 70’s, I was traveling around in an old jeep, and, at one point, wound up at a friend’s house in Miami – his name was actually Green, and he lived in a jungle in Coconut Grove.
One day I got a call from another friend who’d tracked me there. He was ready to travel around the world, and did I want to come?
I was not planning more than a day ahead at this time, but said, “Well, I’m in Miami. If you want to start in South America, I’m in for a couple of months.”
I forgot about it. He showed up a few days later with tickets – a night flight, Miami to Bogata. Some two-bit prop plane. I think it didn’t even use a runway. There was a highway behind the airport, and when the cross traffic was stopped by a red light, we taxied out and took off.
The plane was delayed because the airport in Bogata was “broken,” so we spent the day in Barranquilla where we met the Assistant Minister of Something, a fellow traveler, drinking strong coffee and stronger brandy. By the time we landed in Bogata, he insisted on taking us out, with dates.
I was already exhausted, but that night I forced myself, for the last time in my life, to dance. My friend, to impress his date, ordered a Scotch with ice cream in Spanish.
We finally got back to the hotel, and even though we were feeling Bogata’s altitude and were beyond tired, we were unable to sleep. So, I looked at my friend’s brand new copy of the South American Handbook (the friend was Whitehill, the real guy the fictional Whitehill in the A Guest In The Jungle is modeled after) and read about some frontier town where it was possible to find a guide and go into the jungle. I had previously not considered such a thing could be done without 50 porters and a National Geographic expedition.
So it began. We went to where civilization stopped, and kept going, always learning as much as we could along the way. We went about as deep as it was possible to go. And, a guide? Who needs a guide?
By the time I came out, it was clear to me that there were problems looming ahead for the Indigenous population. There seemed to be nobody doing anything about it.
When I got back to the States, I visited some anthropologists, then went to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation – glorious meetings, with no results.
I still had not gotten into the science. For me it seemed political, protecting the land, protecting the hunt and a way of life.
I kept going back, and one day, in Surinam, I ran into a biologist at a restaurant in Paramaribo. We were the only two guys in the place who did not look like locals.
His job was to go into the jungle, climb trees, and look around. When he saw something, like a bug, he knew almost instantly if it was a new species. He explained deforestation to me over a single beer.
It had been right there, but I had not put two and two together – the slash and burn, the greenhouse effect. I was stunned. The plants were so huge, I’d been in canopy jungle several stories high. Who ever thought it could disappear?
When I got home, I put a piece of paper in the typewriter, and began: “…High noon over the Amazon. Tropical rainstorm skirting the Andes…”
My thought was to write an adventure-comedy about an everyday guy who gets lost in the jungle and learns about the rainforest.
When A Guest In The Jungle came out, someone gave it to this Randy Hayes guy, and it was off and running. I had to cram for my media interviews like college finals to make sure I could properly explain the issues.
Now, two great things have happened. Twenty-five years later, Amazon the bookseller has become Amazon the publisher and reissued my novel about Amazon the jungle.
And most kids in middle school know more now than I ever knew then.