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  • Agnese Nelms Haury:No Armchair Traveler, She
  • Gary Paul Nabhan (bio)

Most of all, I remember sitting next to Aggie in the sand on a flotsam-strewn beach on Tiburon Island, looking out across the waters of the Gulf of California toward the mainland. The rest of our group of a dozen or so companions had decided to hike toward the island's interior, while we decided to stay in that tension zone between desert and sea. We had an hour together, I suppose, without any interruption from our colleagues, from telephones, doorbells, or honking horns. The cries of seagulls and terns were all that intruded on our dialogue.

Aggie held the palm of her right hand above her eyes, and glanced at the empty beaches that stretched out along Tiburon's coastline.

"Somehow this place reminds me of the coast of Yemen, that stark contrast between the richness in the ocean's waters and the scarcity of the desert itself. Have you had the chance to go to Yemen, Gary? It's so fascinating."

"Oh how I wish it was safe to go there now…," I began to reply. "You know, on that first trip to Oman that you helped me prepare for, I went south toward the Hadramaut in my search for frankincense bushes, but could not cross over into Yemen because of political tensions. So we followed the Frankincense Trail south past Suhar, but never to Yemen. But near the Marib Dam in Yemen—that's where my father's people were said to have originated—the Banu Nebhani. …"

"Well," she frowned, "that's a shame. You could say, I suppose, you were being prudent. There is too much turmoil there now. But the coastal villages of Yemen's south coast are as colorful as any I've ever seen anywhere in the world. Drat! I wish I could still travel as I was able [End Page 410] to do since I was in my twenties, but all this medication makes me far too sluggish, even when I get to a marvelous place like this. I'm so relieved that there are still such places completely off the beaten path."

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Agnese Nelms Haury and Gary Paul Nabhan, Baja California, 2002. (Courtesy Loren Haury.)

Although she had never been out to Tiburon Island, she had remembered stories that her friend Julian Hayden told her about going out there in 1941. She also recalled that she had catalogued and curated seashell jewelry derived from the Gulf of California while working with Dr. Emil Haury—the man she later married in 1990, a quarter century after their friendship began among many friends in the mid-1960s.

"Gary, do you think these are like the shores where the Hohokam came on their salt pilgrimages?"

"Could be," I replied. "I've always been intrigued how my elderly O'odham mentors regarded this sea with such fear and awe. They claimed that their own pilgrimages here were as much about songs that came to them in dreams as the visions that occurred when they arrived at these shores." [End Page 411]

"No wonder," she said quietly. "I've felt the same awe myself when I had the chance to visit the desert coasts of Libya, Peru, Ecuador, and Yemen too, of course."

She'd worked in South America, too? I thought to myself. Perhaps I never knew that, or perhaps I had forgotten it. But she had not merely visited South America; she wrote Indians of the Andes, published by the Carnegie Endowment in 1956. It was followed by Libya, Building a Desert Economy (1957), and The Burma Road to Pyidawtha (1958).

Because of our mutual interests, I was most familiar with her work in "the Near East" going back to her days as a history student, and continuing during her time with Eleanor Roosevelt exploring the issues of human rights and community development for the nascent United Nations. I knew that she had also traveled elsewhere in Asia and Europe as editor for the Publications Department of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But most of the time together, we spoke of our shared interest...


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pp. 410-415
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