John Steinbeck

In 1930, writer John Steinbeck and his new wife Carol moved to Pacific Grove, CA, where his family owned a summer home. Born in 1902 in nearby Salinas, Steinbeck had spent his early years exploring nature–the fields of the Salinas Valley as well as the tide pools of Monterey Bay and Point Lobos. Later he admitted that he was a “water fiend” and most of his life was lived near the sea.

When enrolled in Stanford University in the early 1920s, Steinbeck took a course in marine ecology at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, also in Pacific Grove. His own interest in ecology and natural science thus meshed with Ricketts’s studies of marine ecology. The friendship between the two men was extraordinary–deep and deeply significant for both, as captured best in three of Steinbeck’s works drawn from that friendship: Sea of Cortez, Cannery Row (1945), and “About Ed Ricketts” (1951). For nearly two decades–from 1930 until 1948, when Ricketts died–the two men met or corresponded frequently, engaging in long conversations about art, philosophy, music, invertebrates. Throughout their long years of friendship, the artist and the scientist “sparked one another,” as Ricketts’s sister noted. Ricketts’s mind “had no horizons,” Steinbeck wrote in admiration of his friend’s encyclopedic interests.

The ecological perspective that both men embraced is evident throughout Steinbeck’s work, from the wildly penetrating study of one man’s intimate relationship with the land, To a God Unknown (1932), to the multi-leveled epic, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), to his final novel, The Winter of Our Discontent (1961) where Steinbeck ponders the “survivability” of ethical standards in America. In Steinbeck’s last published work, America and Americans (1966) he bemoans ecological destruction throughout the country.