In 1960, only ten years after the biographical essay, "About Edr Ricketts," another printing of the essay occurred with a painting of Ricketts on the cover of the book. The painting shows 'Doc' Ricketts with bucket in hand, walking on a sand flat somewhere on the shore of Baja California. In addition to the bucket, there is pack on his back, a hand lens around his neck, a shovel in his other hand, a cool hat on his head, and he is leaning over looking at his "sane little animals" between pacific tides.
In 1995, Richard Astro wrote a new introduction for the most recent printing of The Log From The Sea Of Cortez. Richard Astro is eminently qualified to write the new introduction as he is also the author of a 200+page book on the relationship of John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts (1972 published), called The Shaping of a Novelist. In the new printing of the Log John Steinbeck's biographical essay, ABOUT ED RICKETTS, has been moved to the back of the book, with Richard Astro's essay at the front of the book.
In 2000-2001, on the 60th anniversary of Steinbeck & Ricketts expedition to the Sea of Cortez, and the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck's biographical essay about Ed Ricketts, I compiled this web page about Ed Ricketts. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so the "soundbyte-saying" goes, and I only wrote a few hundred words. But I hope the 1960 painting of an imaginative Ed Ricketts on a sand-mud flat in Baja California with a bright yellow sun rising in the background provides a "thousand words." At the bottom of this web page are three black & white photographs of Ed Ricketts, hopefully also worth a "1000 words" to you, the reader.
Of course, that book's leading character is a fictionalized version of Steinbeck's closest friend and collaborator on Sea of Cortez -his most important work of nonfiction, a volume which contains the core of Steinbeck's worldview, his philosophy of life, and the essence of a relationship between a novelist and a scientist that ranks among the most famous friendships in American letters. If many tall tales were told at the symposium, embellished by years of telling, it made no difference, except to enhance festivities. For whatever the excesses, the surviving few from the Steinbeck-Ricketts years knew and talked about the breadth and depth of a friendship that was deep and permanent, and that, because of the impact of Rickett's thinking on Steinbeck's most important fiction, accounts in large measure for the novelist's success as a writer.
Cannery Row was published five years after the Steinbeck-Ricketts expedition to the Gulf of California, and while Rickett's life in Monterey remained largely unchanged afterward (he was drafted into the army during World War II, but never left the Monterey presidio), Steinbeck departed California altogether.
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... From Ricketts, Steinbeck learned to see life in scientific terms. His own reading of Ritter, and years of conversations with Ricketts, helped him see life in largely biological terms. Perhaps that is why so many of his most memorable characters are animal-like in thought and action. Tularecito in The Pastures of Heaven, Noah Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, assorted denizens of Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, and, most significantly, Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men, have more in common with what Ricketts called "the good, kind sane little animals" of the intertidal than with Physicians or philosophers. But while Steinbeck understood and was sensitive to human weakness, and while he sometimes envied the simple Indians of the Gulf of California - who, as he notes in the Log, may one day have a legend about their northern neighbors, that "great and godlike race that flew away in four-motored bombers to the accompaniment of exploding bombs, the voice of God calling them home" - he was not content to view the world with what he identified as simple "understanding-acceptance." Rather, for Steinbeck, man is a creature of earth, not a heaven-bound pilgrim, and the writer's most memorable characters are those who see life whole, and then act on the basis of that understanding, to "break through" to useful and purposeful social action.
The clearest picture of the differences between Steinbeck and Ricketts regarding the proper course of human action for those who can "break through" can be drawn from a short film script Seinbeck wrote during the composition of Sea of Cortez, and an essay Ricketts wrote in response. Steinbeck returned to Mexico for a short time during the summer of 1940 with filmmaker Herb Klein to make a study of disease in an isolated village; this study was made into a well-received documentary entitled The Forgotten Village The script focuses on the initiative of a young boy, Juan Diego, who is outraged because a deadly microbial virus, which has polluted the village's water supply and has killed his brother and made his sister seriously ill, is being treated by witch doctors when real medical help is nearby. Juan Diego leaves the village to find the doctors of the Rural Health Service, who return with him to cure the problem. Noting that "chagnes in people are never quick," Steinbeck prophesies that, because of the Juan Diegos of Mexico, "the change will come, is coming; the long climb out of darkness. Already the people are learning, changing their lives, working, living in new ways."
After reading Steinbeck's text, Ricketts wrote an essay he called "Thesis and Materials for a Script on Mexico" - actually an antiscript to Steinbeck's. In it, Ricketts noted that "the chief character in John's script is the Indian boy who becomes so imbued with the spirit of modern medical progress that he leaves the traditional way of his people to associate himself with the new thing."
The working out of a script for the "other side" might correspondingly be achieved through the figure of some wise and mellow old man, who has long ago developed beyond the expediences of economic drives and power drives, and to whom for guidance in adolescent troubles some grandchild comes ... A wise old man, presentt during the time of building a high speed road through a primitive community, appropriately might point out the evils of encroaching mechanistic civilization to young person.
In his best fiction, Steinbeck worked out the conflict between primitivism and progress, between his own view of the world and that of Ricketts-both of which were based, of course, on a scientific view of life organized around the concept of wholeness which is as spiritual as it is biological. And the Ed Ricketts characters in Steinbeck's fiction (they are several and are usually named "Doc") are those who are somehow cut off.
We read Sea of Cortez for its own sake as a first-rate work of travel literature. We read it also to understand the range and depth of Rickett's impact on Steinbeck's fiction. And this permits us to see Steinbeck's fictional accomplishments in a new and fresh light. In so doing, we see not just the absurdity of arguments raised by those who attacked this or that Steinbeck novel on the basis of his alleged belief in any particular political ideology. We see also that his thinking is not worn and obsolete, but is as current as the modern environmental movement, which it predates and with which it has so much in common. If we read and consider Sea of Cortez in all its complexity, we see John Steinbeck fusing science and philosophy, art and ethics by combining the compellling if complex metaphysics of Ed Ricketts with his own commitment to social action by a species for whom he never gave up hope, and whom he believed could and would triumph over the tragic miracle of its own consciousness.