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Home  >  Family and Community  >  Family Collections  >  Lax
Living Literature: Travels in John Steinbeck's Wake
By Andromeda Romano-Lax Page 1 of 4   Next ยป

Books help the reader live vicariously, allowing one to travel — at least mentally — to new places and times. But occasionally, a book provides passage in a more literal sense, to new lands and experiences.

In 1940, the Pulitzer- and Nobel-prize winning author John Steinbeck voyaged to the Sea of Cortez, a "narrow, highly dangerous" body of water off Mexico's Baja Peninsula. His reasons for going: to rigorously study ocean life (he was an amateur biologist), to shake off marital troubles, to find new inspiration in a desert wilderness away from the brewing world war. With his friend, the Monterey biologist Ed Ricketts, Steinbeck wrote about that trip in The Log from the Sea of Cortez, now a classic prized both by ecologists and armchair travelers.

A manmade circle of tidal stones surrounds a natural hot spring on the shore of Bahia Concepcion, the starting point for the Lax family's Sea of Cortez adventure.
Two summers ago, my family and I — including my husband, Brian, and children Aryeh, age 5, and Tziporah, 2 — re-created that journey. It was a 4,000-mile odyssey by small sailboat, sea kayak, Mexican panga, car and thumb. On our best days, we paddled among whales, snorkeled coral reefs, searched for endangered sea cucumbers, and traveled remote waters with a Seri Indian guide. On our worst, we endured chronic seasickness, various mild injuries, and the mood-swings of a manic-depressive American boat captain.

Our plan was to re-live Steinbeck's Log. As weeks passed, we found ourselves re-living many of his books: from Cannery Row -- a book metaphorically enriched by Steinbeck's love of tidepool creatures. To The Grapes of Wrath -- the subject of which, immigration, related to human tragedies we encountered in the northern Cortez. To The Pearl -- a novella inspired by a Mexican fable.

Traveling the lands and meeting the people -- and marine organisms -- that were his subjects, we gained new respect for California's famous native son. The man, his concerns, his opinions and passions, become real to us. If I had ever relegated Steinbeck to the dusty shelves of "literature," and relegated "literature" to the role of passive diversion, then this trip shook off that dust. Literature came to seem more than mere entertainment, more even than reflection and amplification, but instead a way to participate in a vibrant world. Sometimes it seemed like more than that. It became a living beast: beautiful, unpredictable, occasionally dangerous. A few times, as in the condensed excerpt that follows, it was hard to tell where Steinbeck's writings ended and our own adventures began.

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Next page:   Steinbeck's Sting Pages:  1 2  3  4 

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