Career paths are rarely preordained. Instead, they might develop around hobbies, interests and learned skills until an opportunity appears that’s a perfect fit. That’s what happened for Rick Hederstrom.
Rick started out as a young golf-pro-hopeful and detoured into drafting car designs.
Rick had actually gotten his degree in ethnobotany, the study of the relationships that exist between plants and people, at prestigious Connecticut College. Through what he called divine intervention, he received enough financial grants to fully cover the staggering $43,000 yearly tuition.
Grounded in a strong Catholic faith and kinship with the outdoors and nature, Rick is fascinated with the healing qualities of plants. That led him to pursue ethnobotany, figuring it had more long-term career potential than practicing on golf greens or drawing concept cars indoors at a drafting table.
“I was initially most interested in plants’ usefulness as medicine and perhaps playing a role in developing new treatments and cures from plants,” he said.
When the chance came to study abroad in his junior year, he wound up in the Peruvian Andes and rainforest for three months — immersed in fieldwork with the people of Cuzco and the outlying lowlands, learning how they used plants in everyday life.
“For [Peruvians], the use of plants is a very serious ritual experience and forms the basis of their world view,” Rick explained. “Ayahuasca, a mixture of certain plants, is intensely spiritual, hallucinogenic and is conducive to a positive healing or state of peace.”
The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai strive to blend enrichment, enlightenment, education and enjoyment. Today, as the facility’s associate director, Rick offers insights to visitors into the crucial roles plants play in our survival.
Guests touring the gardens learn that each living, breathing organism has a name, a story to tell and a complexity and beauty beyond being just a lovely green object. They also can sample delicious fruits he selects from the tropical fruit garden.
“Coconut water from the coconut palms’ fruit provides a valuable source of fresh water, and can substitute as intravenous fluid for hydration,” Rick said, “because it is sterile and has the right balance of minerals and electrolytes.”
As well as sharing his knowledge, his job includes inventorying the gardens’ plant collections, photographing and noting their condition as well as their flowering and fruiting, and choosing new plants to be added to the collections as planning continues for the facility’s future. He also pens a blog titled “The Diary of the Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai.”
Rick spends much of his free time at home in spiritual or religious reading, prayer and meditation, or attending Mass and participating in activities at the Upper Keys’ San Pedro Catholic Church.
On another note, he admits to a whimsical desire to deejay in the Keys, mixing a variety of electronic music. But for now, he’s satisfied with motorcycle rides, exercising and spending time around the water.
“I feel great when I am outdoors, in communion with nature — God’s manifestation in its purest form,” he said.