Ed Ricketts (1897-1948), Marine Biologist
by
Joel Hedgpeth


1988
Proceedings of the Symposium on Managing Inflows to California Bays & Estuaries

compiled by
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club and Wetlands Action Network



1988 Excerpt:
Since John Steinbeck metamorphosed his friend Ed Ricketts into "Doc" and stuffed him into Cannery Row, that "poisoned creampuff" (as one critic called it), too many readers have gotten the idea that a person becomes a marine biologist by just being one, without really doing much of anything except guzzling beer. Ed would have put up with most of this with his usual good humor, but since the abaove attempt at describing Ed as the resident eccentric of a "ricketty lab" for uniformed British readers inpugns his professional status as a collector of specimens for research and classroom study,he would probably have demanded an apology, as such collecting in a marine laboratory's area has always been against the rules. Today, when the shores near Scripps are specially designated, protected areas, he would have had grounds to sue for libel. At the very least, the description provided "for local color" in an otherwise distinguished and authoritative journal, is a gross summary of inaccuracies, not the least of them being the several hundred miles between "ricketty lab" (what a pun from Ms. Pain!) at Pacific Grove and Scripps Institutuion at La Jolla.

Just what is a marine biologist? . . . . .

Some years ago when the position . . .

As it turned out, the University . . . .

Through most of its years . . . .

Two decades later another Chicago boy, Donald P. Abbott (1920-86) became interested by inclination and encouragement in natural history and made many visits to the Field Museum. He came west, all the way to Hawaii, to visit the sea, and then went to Berkeley for his degree. From there he was called to Pacific Grove (his firs and only job) where for 33 years he taught invertebrate zoology with such skill that he was awarded Stanford's highest honor to excellence in teaching. He missed meeting Ed by only a few days, but it was on this wonderful shore that they were on common ground, where, as Joseph Campbell, an old friend of Ed's might have said, "these two came to meet their father." (Don and Joe both died in Hawaii, not quite a year apart.)

Ed did not reach this stage of knowledge overnight, and had very little appropriate training - during the 1920's when he was a student at the University of Chicago there was no such thing as a major in marine biology. However, there was the ecology course taught by W. C. Allee, who for several years had been conducting a field course at Woods Hole, and compiling observations on the changes in the fauna of the region. As a boy raised in Chicago, Ed had little experience with nature except a year in South Dakota. He probably visited the Field Musuem, in those days a gathering of bones, stuff animals and dusty seashell in cases. He was a transfer from Illinois State Normal where he had taken courses in zoology and pscyhology. His college record was undistinguished, but he flunked no courses, although he was docked three grade points for persistent absence from chapel. Ed came away from Chicago with the memory of Allee's course and the stories of Dr. Libbie Hyman, who had been a summer visitor at Hopkins Marine Station, of the fantastically rich fauna and flora of the Monterey coast that had to be seen to be believed (those where the days before color slides). Allee, who had also visited Hopkins, thought the abundance of life on the shore "appalling."

Ed left the University of Chicago without graduating, to establish a biological supply business at Monterey, . . .

All marine biologists hope to see coral reefs at least once in their lives, but Ed never did. The great adventure of his life was the trip to the Gulf of California, the "Sea of Cortez," financed for him by John Steinbeck. He made the most of it, both in observing and the collecting, and in the writing up. In record time he got the specimens out to the authorities so that he had the names that were essential and wrote the technical appendix that to him was the signficant part of the book. He kept a journal, which Steinbeck did not, and contributed one of his famous philosophical essays that became Easter Sunday chapter of the book. The critics were confused and puzzled by the book, but at least Joseph Campbell understood it and that was enough. the trip was Ed's experience with a strange, awesomely empty landscape and a sea teeming with creatures hed had never seen before. As a project with John Steinbeck, Sea of Cortez gave Ed hopes for more, eventually to voyage beyond the northern latitudes. He hoped first to finish part of his trilogy of books about the Pacific Coast, and he was well on with the northern part of it, to the Queen Charlotte Islands. But it was not to be. He met his fatal accident in the midst of preparations for the northern trip. Many others have written books about Coral Reefs, and Between Pacific Tides remains as a worthy monument toa unique and devoted marine biologist.

[Postscript: the original lecture was illustrated by slides, views of seashores, of intertidal creatures and of people who were part of Ed's life. It is not possible to reproduce these, and the format, but not the spirit, of the lecture has been adjusted in this rewriting, a year after delivery of the lecture. - J.W. H.]



Reflections and Observations
by
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist and Geographer

The breadth of Joel Hedgpeth's knowledge and curiosity is truely amazing.