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Wendy Hodgson: When She Gets to Her Study Sites, there ain’t Nothing She Can’t See

Celebrating 50 Years of Wonderful Co-Authors and Editors

For the last 40 years, the most fun-loved letter H among my co-authors has been Wendy Hodgson, the tireless field botanist and agave ethnobotanist who is coming up on 50 years at the Desert Botanical Garden. She is the only field scientist I’ve ever known who heads into the boonies playing on her car radio Aretha Franklin’s “I’m goin’ out on the Freeway of Love in a Pink Cadillac.”

When she gets to her study sites, there ain’t nothing she can’t see including her discovery of 7 new species of “forgotten agave domesticates” in Arizona, more than were recruited and cultivated prehistorically than in any other state in either the US or Mexico. Howard Scott Gentry introduced us to one another in 1978, but we didn’t start botanizing and writing together in earnest til 1983 when I joined her at the Garden for a few fruitful years, camping and plant collecting from Big Bend all the way through the Sky Island and the Sierra Madre to the Guaymas shores of the Sea of Cortes.

We are still writing and scheming together 4 decades later, working on a Sonoran Desert agave book with Greg Starr and Bill Steen. One of the funniest moments was when we were camping for 8 days in Mexico without Pima friend and linguist Culver Cassa. Just before dinner, either Wendy or our friend Mark asked Culver, “Hey why don’t I see many Native Americans camping out under the stars in National Parks and Forests.”

Culver sly grinned and replied, “Cuz we camp much of the year on the rez, but in our backyard, pulling the beds out of the house when we can’t pay our bills and they turn off the AC and lights inside our houses!” I swear that Wendy laughed until she was crying for nearly ten minutes straight. By then, we were giggling so hard we all nearly peed our (respective) pants.

That’s what fieldwork is about: shedding your presumptions and constraints, so that you can see (and pee?) freshly.

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