Above the Tide Pools

Clay's Steinbeck Journal • March 7th, 2017

There is a famous and haunting scene in Cannery Row. Doc (i.e., Ed Ricketts) finds a dead girl in a tide pool. She is ethereally beautiful. Her hair has feathered out in the watery environment and it moves in delicate undulations as the ocean swells and subsides. Ricketts’ view was that we live in a non-teleological world, that things just “is,” and that the Lifeforce is ubiquitous but also profligate. In other words, ten million anchovies may be born, but predators kill nine million of them, and the rest live to procreate. This is Nature. This is how the world works. Something is always eating something else. Our bodies are eaten by maggots, those maggots in turn by birds, those birds…

CanneryRow

When Doc discovers the dead girl, who appears to be a young woman, not a child, his soul moves instantly to great music. Somehow he finds a way to see beyond the shock of finding a dead woman in the tidewater margin of the California coast, to some sort of cosmic symphony.

Well, yesterday we ventured out to Point Lobos south of Monterey, just across the bay from the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course. We had three hours to hike, take photographs, meditate, gaze, and drink in the almost unbearable beauty of the central California coast. Robert Louis Stevenson said that there no place on earth where the mingling of sea and the edge of land is more completely compelling. Some say he used Point Lobos as the baseline setting for his depictions of Treasure Island. We do know that one film version of Treasure Island was filmed here, along with 50-some other Hollywood Films, including Rebecca, which somehow won Best Picture in 1940 over John Ford’s classic The Grapes of Wrath with Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.

My friend Damilton and I lay on our backs down at the cottage cove, side by side under the great cypress trees, and, as Robert Frost put it, “said some of the best things we ever said.”

We drove down much later in the day to Rocky Point, not far from Big Sur, and watched the sunset over the coast. And had dinner.

Today, we will start to wrestle with The Grapes of Wrath, though how can you do justice to that classic of American literature in a couple of hours. We have a great group—some of them talkers—and my friend Russ Eagle, for whom Steinbeck is a god, is providing excellent commentary. And after we got done talking, we’ll go to Pinnacles National Park to do some real hiking.

These cultural tours are deeply satisfying to me, and I think all 23 of us feel the same way.

 
 

Clay S. Jenkinson is an author, filmmaker and public humanities scholar stationed in Bismarck, North Dakota. Clay hosts the weekly public radio program, The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Learn more about Clay, Odyssey Tours, and the spring 2017 tour & retreat, Steinbeck's California.


Clay's Steinbeck Journal