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Mark Klett and Colin Khoury: Delights of Process of Collaboration

Celebrating 50 Years of Wonderful Co-Authors and Editors

With last names of co-authors that start with K, I don’t even know where to begin, since they range from Texas Observer editor and food journalist, Megan Kimble, to chile-chaser Kraig Kraft to landscape photographer extraordinaire Mark Klett to global seed conservation hero Colin Khoury.

For brevity’s sake, let me just tell you two stories from the field, that gives you a sense of the delights of the Process of Collaboration, rather than focusing on anything that smacks of ego satisfaction regarding the end-product.

When I lived in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Mark Klett and I began work on Desert Legends: Restoring the Sonoran Borderlands for Henry Holt publishing. We did something at the onset that was fairly quirky: we each came up with a list of iconic images — not storylines — that we thought were key to the identities of borderline communities, looked for overlap, and them I wrote to match Mark’s photos, and he shot to match my stories.

We interwove it all, without one of us (always) in the lead. The most memorable moment has hiking in the heat of the desert in the summer to re-find a saguaro cactus with a shirt fit over its arms that an undocumented border crosser had left near the boundary line to lighten his load. We drove 40 minutes threw the heat, hiked another 15 minutes or so, then I spotted it. Then I just watched Mark work. As if on fire, he slowly moved forward as if stalking the saguaro, then suddenly at one point he pulled up his camera at a certain angle and shot. He began walking back toward and said, “I think that will do it…that was a fantastic image,” “but just one shot?” I said in disbelief, “It took us an hour to get here.”

Mark simply replied, “Always trust what initially attracts you to an image or a landscape… second thoughts don’t count for much.” WOW! We walked back silently through the sizzling heat, as I savored a lesson gifted to me by a true master.

Colin Khoury has arguably become the most gifted, famous and effective voice for seed conservation on the entire planet, and he does so by building remarkable collaborations of innovative thought leaders. In the co-authored papers, retreats or workshops I have participated in that Colin has organized, you almost feel that mycorrhizal connections are growing among the team members.

One time at a Tucson workshop that Colin and I co-organized, we took a group of people interested in Crop Wild Relatives down to the Rock Corral Canyon Wild Chile Reserve neat Tumacacori Arizona to see the northernmost wild habitats for the fiery chiltepins; by happenstance we were gratified that the celebrated desert archaeologists, Suzanne and Paul Fish decided to come along.

As Colin and I were telling people about the life history of the wild chiles, he said to me, “Can you say something about the human connection?” Just then, I saw Paul and Suzie down below us, coming back from some bedrock mortar grinding stones shaped by the original inhabitants of Tumacacori a few yards below us. Paul was stooping over, looking intently at the ground. I said to Colin, is it okay to let Paul or Suzie talk to that? “Sure.” Paul then quietly said, “While you all have been looking at the chiles themselves, we’ve been focused on their cultural interactions.”

He and Suzie held out their hands, showing us painted pot sherds from right below their feet. “We are not the first observers here. We now have evidence that prehistoric dwellers have come to this place for a very long time.” I looked over at Colin. He was grinning like a Cheshire Cat… I wish him well in his new position at the botanical garden in San Diego. Welcome back to the borderlands, Colin!

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