Thursday, August 1, 2013


7/26/13            We toured the laboratory and living space of Edward F. Ricketts, one of Steinbeck’s friends and a major influence on Steinbeck's writing (they spent hours here in discourse and beer drinking).  Ricketts was a pioneer in the field of ecology.  While most scientists studied the individual organisms of an intertidal region, Ricketts believed in studying the entire community--the interactions of species and communal development.  Steinbeck used the tide pool community as a metaphor for human communities (and vice-versa). 
Ricketts at the tide pool (photo courtesy of Stanford University Library)
One of the more difficult topics of discussion between Steinbeck, Ricketts, and another frequent lab visitor, Joseph Campbell, was that of non-teleological thinking. 

“Non-teleological thinking concerns itself primarily not with what should be, or could be, or might be, but rather with what actually ‘is’—attempting at most to answer the already sufficiently difficult questions what or how, instead of why.” (The Log From The Sea Of Cortez)

Ricketts owned and operated a biological supply house on Ocean View Avenue, which would later become Cannery Row.  Pacific Biological Laboratories, provided specimens to schools, museums, and laboratories.  He collected his specimens from the Monterey Bay area and preserved them in his lab.  Ricketts' history is simple and complex (I’m stealing this idea of opposites from Steinbeck when trying to describe Ricketts).  “Ed had more fun than nearly everyone I have ever known, and he had deep sorrows also…” (The Log From The Sea Of Cortez)
At the door to Pacific Biological Laboratories

Inside the basement lab.  The photo inset shows Ricketts in his lab .

E. F. Ricketts was born in Chicago and died in Monterey when the car he was driving was hit by a train (a train that made the trip through Monterey at the same time every day—I wonder how he could have missed it).  He left a legacy of friendship and kindness (to most), obsessively complete field and lab notes, and a philosophy that I need to explore in more depth.

“Doc would listen to any kind of nonsense and turn it into wisdom. His mind had no horizon - and his sympathy had no warp. He could talk to children, telling them very profound things so that they understood. He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement. He was concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell. Everyone who knew him was indebted to him. And everyone who thought of him thought next, 'I really must do something nice for Doc'.” (Cannery Row)

Though this quote from Cannery Row describes the character of ‘Doc’, it is fairly certain that Steinbeck is describing his friend E.F. Ricketts and that the character ‘Doc’ was modeled after Ricketts.

The laboratory is no longer used as such and has been converted into a ‘men’s club’ frequented by the likes of Hank Ketcham of Dennis the Menace fame.  In fact, the gentlemen who bought the building and began the club are credited with initiating the Monterey Jazz Festival. 
Poster in Ricketts lab commemorating the Monterey Jazz Festival.  

The view from the back of the lab.  The large square units are holding tanks for specimens.

Another view inside the lab.

Dr. Susan Shillinglaw, one of the directors of this institute.

A bust of E. F. Ricketts at the site of his death.  The area is now part of a bike/walking path.

Suggested reading—“About Ed Ricketts”, the appendix to Steinbeck’s The Log From The Sea Of Cortez.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


We are fortunate to have passes to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the entire time we are in Monterey!  Last week we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility.  The aquarium is housed at the site of the old Hovden Sardine Cannery.
Julie Packard with a model of the proposed aquarium in the 1970's.  The Hovden Cannery is in the background. Photo courtesy of The Monterey Bay Aquarium

The establishment of the aquarium was the idea of several academics from San Jose State University and Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Center in 1970’s.  They, along with Nancy Burnett and Julie Packard recognized a need for ocean education and literacy.  Nancy and Julie appealed to their father David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard) who provided the funding for the aquarium they envisioned.  Today, Julie serves as Executive Director and Vice Chair of the Aquarium's Board of Trustees.  David Packard, in the aquarium’s Policy Statement states, "The purpose of Monterey Bay Aquarium is to provide a facility to expand the public interest in and enjoyment of the marine life and the environment of Monterey Bay and the surrounding areas and shoreline." 

In addition to spectacular displays, the staff at the aquarium conducts research on marine organisms,  rescues and rehabilitates sea otters, and establishes safe seafood educational materials including a iPhone App (Seafood Watch) to educate the public on seafood sustainability.  



Where in the World is the camouflaged fish?  

An incredible example of bioluminescence.  The colored areas flash  from top to bottom.
Sand Dollars

Brittle Stars


“[...] it is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious, most of the mystical outcrying which is one of the most prized and used and desired reactions of our species, is really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable. This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis, a Roger Bacon, a Charles Darwin, and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.” --- John Steinbeck, The Log From The Sea Of Cortez

Steinbeck’s words must suffice for this entry.  I will only elaborate to say the tide pool at 6:00 a.m. was a moving experience and, though sore from falling twice, I am blessed to have been part of the tide pool community if just for a brief moment.

The intertidal zone at low low-tide

The same area at a much higher tide

Carefully navigating through the kelp and seagrass.  Shortly after this photograph was taken, I was in the water!  I'm wearing the yellow boots.

Illustrating the difference between a sponge (upper organism) and a colonial tunicate.

Sea anemone.  These are related to a jellyfish.  I chose to stick my finger into the middle of the anemone to feel it close around my finger as if my finger was prey.  The prickling sensation wasn't painful though it felt as if I were the smoother side of velcro and the anemone had the barbs.

The Blob!  We noticed this undulating blob of protoplasm and wondered what it was!
Picking it up, we discovered it was a Sea Hare, a sea slug related to the slugs that frequent gardens, only much bigger, heavier, and with a defensive ink.  If you look closely, you'll see my fingers were stained purple (for my science geeks, I felt like I'd performed a messy Gram Stain!)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


My schedule from Monday through Wednesday—agricultural tour of the Salinas Valley, “East of Eden” film, small group discussion of the film and novel, a lecture on the Populuxe by Dr. Scot Guenter, San Jose State University, a lecture on civil religion and the status seekers of the 1950’s (the time when East of Eden was written but not the time when the novel was set)by Scot Guenter, an introduction to the intertidal by William Gilly of Hopkins Marine Center and one of the Steinbeck Institute directors, a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call and exploration of the intertidal region (at low tide, of course), a lecture on the death and life of Monterey Bay by Steve Polumbi of Hopkins Marine Center, and finally a behind-the-scenes tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium!  Whew!  Please forgive my laxity in writing.  I’m tired!  A very good tired, but tired nonetheless.

The agricultural tour of Salinas Valley

Our tour began at The Nunes Company, Inc., a family-owned business since the 1930’s that owns all aspects of the production of lettuce, broccoli, celery, asparagus, and more on their greater than 11,000 acres of produce.  We saw the fields being harvested and I was so impressed with the skills required of the harvesters.  This video illustrates the speed at which the iceberg (head) lettuce is cut, trimmed, wrapped in plastic, popped into a box, and the boxes loaded on palettes all while this machine (for lack of a better word) slowly moves towards the harvesters!  There isn’t even time for a sneeze or you’ll get out of sync!  Appreciate your salads!

We saw trucks delivering the palettes to the Nunes packing facility where the product is weighed and checked for quality assurance and cooled to 34oF.  The refrigerator room was at this same temperature.  The product is distributed from here. 

We learned about the economics of California produce (produce is shipped to all States and 26 countries), the richness of the soil, and, of most interest to me, why this small stretch of land is so fertile.  The Salinas Valley (90 miles long) is boxed-in by mountains and the Salinas River runs west through the valley.  As the sun warms the land, the hotter air from the land rises and moves towards the bay where it is cooled and blown back over the valley and deposited as mist or rain.  I think I have that right.  Any corrections would be appreciated!
Michael and Jamie contemplate lettuce
Celery field

Our agricultural guide was Veryl, a former schoolteacher who was absolutely passionate about agriculture science.  He regaled us with lessons in history, science, geography, economics, and he even picked some celery, lettuce, and strawberries for us to enjoy. 
Hmmm...where did THIS strawberry come from?
Gilly, Amber Jensen, and Rebecca Oberg with
legally obtained strawberries!
                                                The Salinas Valley

That same evening, we watched the 1955 film “East of Eden” with James Dean as Cal.  Though the film only covers the last part of the book and several characters were left out entirely, it was well written and acted and wholly enjoyable (yes, I teared up in the end).  After the film, we discussed, among other things, whether or not the character of Kate was treated the same in the film as Steinbeck described her in the novel.  There seemed to be some liberal interpretation of her character (modeled after Steinbeck’s second wife, Gwyn Conger).

I’ll write more of our discussion on East of Eden later.  The Populuxe and intertidal will also have to wait for another day.            

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Early discussions of East of Eden involved themes of good and evil and the role of brotherhood; family dynamics and rejection; the construction of narratives and the identity of the narrator in East of Eden; redemption, memory and forgiveness; contrasts; and timshel or the idea of a personal sense of choice, of free will.  My group talked about guilt and whether free will exists in its purist sense (how our choices might be tangled by the life we are given or the by the choices made by others). 

In the novel, timshel is translated as thou mayest, not thou shalt as it is translated in the King James Bible.  Both groups’ discussions made their way to a Kate.  We struggled with the end of the novel and Kate’s final act.  Was it just another act of evil?  Did she feel remorse (a human emotion)?  If Kate does show form of humanity, if she is not evil, does Cal really have a choice to make?  More to come…

A blog to anticipate: Susan told us there is a good chance we will be able to visit East of Eden ranch!  Stay tuned!

Sharon and Jamie at Merlot's
Today, Jamie Vermaat and I took the bus into Carmel, roamed the streets, and kept our eyes opened for glimpses of Clint Eastwood (no luck).  We discovered that what really determined whether or not we entered a shop, was the smell emanating from within!  Merlot’s ended up being our destination for lunch and it was such a good choice.  Both of us had a salad that was so fresh it tasted like the earth and three-cheese polenta over fresh (really fresh!) vegetables.  It was so good!  Later we drank coffees and ate cannoli’s made with fresh orange zest in a local park.  How many times can I use the word ‘fresh’ in one blog?!

Three-cheese polenta and fresh veggies!  So good!
A Carmel alley
Jamie, in an alley!
Cannoli's in a Carmel park

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Several Steinbeck Institute participants rented a car today and drove north to the redwood forests near Santa Cruz.  We opted to have a guide take us through the old-growth forest in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and it was well worth it! Our guide was an engaging storyteller, full of knowledge of the trees and their various adaptations, the legends surrounding the forest, and the efforts to preserve the Coastal Redwoods.  To clarify (because we were confused), Coastal Redwoods are a type of sequoia that grows in a belt along the west coast of the United States (and very near the coast).  They need acidic soil, summer fog (they require 200 gallons of water each day), and a temperate climate.  The biome is a temperate rainforest.  These Coastal Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world.  The tree referred to as the Giant Sequoia (Giant Redwood) is found only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  These are the widest trees in the world.  If you've seen photos of cars driving through tree trunks, the trees are Giant Redwoods.

I am going to let the photos speak for themselves (hmmm… with the exception of the captions I think are necessary)!
This Coastal Redwood was about 2200 years old!
Sharon, Trish, Beccie, Jamie, and Courtney
A forest 'nursery'
My neck hurt taking this photo!
Courtney and Sharon inside a Coastal Redwood (rumored to have sheltered Lt. John Fremont, his fellow Civil War soldiers and their horses!  It was BIG but not that big!) 
A rare albino redwood.  These are genetic offspring of a normal redwood and rely on the 'parent' for nutrition.
A banana slug!
The beach at Santa Cruz

Obviously, I am not a Californian!  The beach-goers in the back were in swim suits while I sported a coat and knit hat!

Pelicans flying to their roost on the rock to the right of the photo