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Wood and animals, and rocks

Carroll Ann Hodges has a household of friends, animate and inanimate

Recently retired three-term Woodside Town Council member Carroll Ann Hodges seems to find satisfaction in the elemental.

In her work as a geologist, she focused on the study of rocks and minerals, the essence of fundamental and touchable physical reality. In choosing a car in the 1960s, she picked a sports car, but one with the raw power to tow a horse trailer from Texas to Colorado and, a year later, over the mountains to the Bay Area. She likes single-malt Scotch and still owns her first piece of furniture, a table saw.

"That's been my most useful piece of furniture, and the most important," Ms. Hodges, 73, says in an interview at her home along Canada Road. She shares her place with a red 1964-and-1/2 Mustang convertible (it was introduced six months early); three tawny cats, including one who reportedly rolls over, sits and jumps through hoops on command; and a horse that could charm a carrot from Bugs Bunny.

At home, a one-story 1977 structure of her own design, she is surrounded by real wood -- knotty pine on the inside and cedar on the outside, including new shakes on the front that she replaced herself. The elegant pine dining table that seats 12 is her work. (To make it, she bought a plank planer.) On her workbench outside are the barn-wood elements of a new medicine cabinet she's making.

All this is not to say Ms. Hodges does not appreciate nuance. She has a doctorate in geology from Stanford University and was a consulting professor there for the last two years of her 25-year career with the U.S. Geological Survey. She retired in 1995.

She taught geology at Colorado State and San Jose State universities, and her career includes private-sector work as a geologist for Shell Oil and for San Francisco-based Utah Construction and Mining.

Her USGS career includes work on terrestrial and Martian volcanoes and topological studies of the moon and Mars. She was an editor of draft reports on "orbital science" for the Apollo 17 moon mission. From the USGS Menlo Park offices, she led the Geologic Division, Western Region.

For three months in 1963, while a graduate student at Stanford, Ms. Hodges gave lectures and campfire talks and led hikes as a ranger and naturalist in the Grand Canyon. "The best job I ever had," she says.

In 1980-81, while with the USGS, she went to Washington, D.C., as a congressional science fellow for the American Geophysical Union. Working with a Nevada congressman, she studied the environmental and economic impacts of an Air Force proposal to station intercontinental ballistic missiles in Nevada.

In three essays for Eos, a Geophysical Union magazine, Ms. Hodges recounts her congressional experience and maps strategies for scientists wanting to lobby that august body. The essays are online (at tinyurl.com/CAHodges) and are interesting reading even after 25 years.

Friend to equestrians

Ms. Hodges' horse Midnight, a purebred Morgan gelding, stands a little over 14 hands high and spends his time in the field and stable behind her house. She rides him on Woodside's trails just about every day -- a reward, she says, for her day's accomplishments.

Midnight, as his name implies, is black, as black as he can be. "There's not a white hair on him," Ms. Hodges says.

After an introduction and a friendly hand on his withers, Midnight assertively snuffled this reporter's sweater with his mouth, leaving the sweater curiously dry and unwrinkled and the reporter feeling welcomed, as if he'd just shaken hands.

Horses have been integral to Ms. Hodges' life and to her involvement with Woodside, a town that identifies itself with the equestrian lifestyle. (A larger-than-life bronze sculpture of a mare and foal is set to debut on downtown's Village Hill in the spring.)

Ms. Hodges was the Town Council liaison to the Livestock and Animal Control Committee, and is a charter member of WHOA, the Woodside Horse Owners Association. WHOA, she says, is "very focused and determined to keep the emphasis on horses in this town."

Is the town's equestrian focus still sharp? "We hope so," she says, and credits WHOA, the Woodside Trail Club and the Trails Committee. "The groups that are really concerned about the equestrian image are very active," she says. "I do what I can from my limited perspective."

That's a little self-deprecating from someone with her background. She's cruised the whole of the Mississippi River and up the Ohio River to Pittsburgh on the Delta Queen steamboat, she says.

She's been to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, the home of the Skeleton Coast and its desert elephants. She's ridden a bike in Provence, and horses in Killarney, Ireland, and eastern France.

Asked about her reading, she has, "of course," read "Sea Biscuit," and is working through "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. A favorite is "Dominion: The Power of Men, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy" by Matthew Scully.

Ms. Hodges is a vegetarian on principle. "I know how dreadful -- dreadful -- factory farming has become," she says. She will buy and cook fish, and as a guest, will eat what is before her, she says.

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