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.

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