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Two books that made Monterey famous.

Last week's Nature Nut focused on tidepooling in San Diego for my college research thesis, and more recently with my grandchildren.

My main resource for my intertidal collecting experiences, and subsequent writing of the thesis, was a book titled "Between Pacific Tides," by Ed Ricketts. The final days of this year's California Thanksgiving trip were spent heading north to Monterey, where Ricketts based his work.

Ricketts' lab, with a "backyard" connected directly to the ocean, is where he brought the thousands of frogs, starfish, octopus and other critters he collected along the California coastline. There he made a living selling specimens to colleges and high schools after preserving them, probably in formaldehyde that now is considered a dangerous chemical. But he also collected and documented much more than the critters he sold.

Unlike previous biologists, Ricketts studied how the intertidal organisms lived together, not just as individuals. This made him one of the earliest of ecologists. However, because he was mostly self-taught, the scientific community mostly rejected him because of his lack of a proper "sheepskin."

Interestingly, before he died at an early age in a train crash, Ricketts fame was as "Doc," the main character in John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row." Steinbeck and Ricketts had become close friends in Monterey's cannery section where, besides the rich and famous, Ricketts also befriended many of the homeless who lived in abandoned warehouses near his lab and residence.

Ricketts' lab was sandwiched between sardine factories, an industry he correctly predicted would crash because of overfishing. Ricketts lived above the lab and it was there, where he, Steinbeck, and others often partied and philosophized for hours, sometimes days, on end.

Ricketts extended his ecological philosophy to humans, believing "man was only one part of a great chain of being, caught in a web of life too large for him to control or understand." Steinbeck would share that philosophy on human nature and make it the basis for much of his writing. Unfortunately, that philosophy is still not close to being universally accepted today as we race toward destroying our only earth.

Before his death, Ricketts embarked on a six-week joint research effort with Steinbeck aboard a 76-foot boat on the Sea of Cortez. This ultimately led to another Steinbeck book by that name.

Following Ricketts' death, Steinbeck said of him, "His mind had no horizons. He was interested in everything." And decades after Ricketts' death, "Between Pacific Tides" now is considered the "Bible" for intertidal studies and still is published for aspiring marine biologists, as I once was.

On the trip to Monterey, we were able to see the outside of Ricketts' garage lab and upstairs residence, which once was a lively spot on Montereys famous "Cannery Row." It now sits between "tourist trap" boutiques and fancy hotels only a block away from the famous Monterey Aquarium. Although no tours were being offered while we were there, while eying the lab from the outside we did have a lively conversation with another couple, who were Steinbeck fans from San Diego.

Our trip ended with the 500-mile drive back to San Diego through Big Sur and other spectacular scenery. It also included a stop to see hundreds of huge elephant seals on beaches within a few yards of the highway.

Next week's Nature Nut may include one last segment on our California adventures, as we now are back home but still acclimating ourselves to the change in climate.

Greg Munson is a volunteer naturalist and freelance writer. If you have questions, comments or column ideas, contact Munson at

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