To the Sea of Cortez.

Journey to the Sea of Cortez.

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

I feel very guilty as I didn’t make a note of where I came across this film.  Whoever highlighted the film, thank you!  It’s truly beautiful.  So, please, settle yourself down and be enthralled.

In March 1940, the author John Steinbeck and his friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts, sailed down the coast of California and Mexico to the Sea of Cortez. “The abundance of life here gives one an exuberance,” they wrote, “a feeling of fullness and richness.

Their stated purpose was to document the creatures that inhabit shallow waters and tide pools on the margins of the Sea of Cortez. But it became much more. In these mysterious, phosphorescent waters they sought an understanding of mankind’s relationship to the natural world and a wellspring of hope for a world headed toward war.

Looking beyond the events of the day, the two friends foresaw our rising impact on the oceans and the devastating impact that over fishing would have on this rich sea. And yet, in their journey, they encountered a periodic cooling of the eastern Pacific Ocean known as La Niña that can still set off an explosion of life.

Can the story of their journey inspire new efforts to preserve the Sea of Cortez? Down along the shores of western Mexico, the wind blows hot and dry. Beyond these barren landscapes, cold currents rush up from the deep and the ocean literally boils with life.

Following their journey down to the Sea of Cortez in March of 1940, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts searched for a way to describe what they saw. “Trying to remember this place,” they wrote, “is like trying to re-create a dream. It is fierce and hostile and sullen. The stone mountains pile up to the sky and there is little fresh water. But we know we must go back if we live, and we don’t know why.

The Sea of Cortez is one of the most diverse marine ecosystems on the planet. It’s shaped by the cool waters of the California Current flowing into the warm tropics and by a complex undersea terrain that rises up along a chain of islands and sea mounts. It was the shorelines, between the desert and the deep, that drew John Steinbeck, the author, and Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist and expert on coastal ecosystems.

Ricketts’ book, “Between Pacific Tides,” is a classic study of the inter-tidal zones of the California coastline and the myriad creatures that live in shallow pools, clinging to rocks to sift the rich nutrients carried in by the tides. Steinbeck and Ricketts sought to extend this work to the Sea of Cortez and to explore ideas at the core of their friendship. They shared a belief that man’s fate, like that of the animals they saw, is linked to the health of the natural world. [Ed. my emphasis]

Ricketts is said to have inspired some of Steinbeck’s most memorable characters, including Doc in Cannery Row, and the preacher Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, published a year before their voyage. Set against the backdrop of drought and economic depression, the book describes the dustbowl conditions that gripped the American heartland in the 1930’s. “Now the wind grew strong and hard and it worked at the rain crust in the corn fields. Little by little the sky was darkened by the mixing dust, and carried away. The wind grew stronger. The rain crust broke and the dust lifted up out of the fields and drove gray plumes into the air like sluggish smoke.

In most years, southerly winds carry moisture into the midsection of the country from the Gulf of Mexico. In the 1930’s, according to a recent NASA study, those winds were diverted by a build up of warm water in the Western Atlantic and by a periodic cooling of the Eastern Pacific known as La Niña. This combination robbed the region of rain.

By the time Steinbeck and Ricketts began their journey, the historic backdrop had shifted to war. Fighting had engulfed Europe and was spreading to the western Pacific. While the United States was still officially neutral, American companies had begun supplying arms to the allied effort. In early 1940, John Steinbeck used money he earned from “The Grapes of Wrath” to hire a sardine boat called the Western Flyer. From Monterrey, California, he, his wife Carol, Ed Ricketts and a four-man crew headed south, charting a course along the Mexican coastline.

By all accounts, the journey was filled with adventure, camaraderie, and a sense of wonder at the diversity of living things they encountered. Over a six-week period, the two friends wrote journal entries, took notes on conversations, and catalogued specimens they collected on the way. They compiled these writings into a book: “Sea of Cortez, A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research,” later changed to “The Log From the Sea of Cortez.”

The work amounts to a search for a way to understand nature, and humanity at large, in a world steadily coming apart at the seams.

Ed Ricketts
Ed Ricketts

The film was released last Feb 28, 2013. Directed by Thomas Lucas, the Producers were John Friday, Thomas Lucas and Adam Ravetch.

oooOOOooo

Will end with a couple of personal reflections.  First is that when I was invited out to Mexico for Christmas 2007 by Suzann and Don, I travelled to San Carlos, Mexico on the Eastern shores of the Sea of Cortez.  San Carlos is a little under 300 miles south of the Arizonan border with Mexico and was where Jean had been living for many years.  Meeting Jean changed my life forever!  Here’s a picture of the Sea of Cortez through the rear door of Jean’s house in San Carlos.

Not the longest walk in the world to the beach!
Not the longest walk in the world to the beach!

Second reflection is about dogs. Jean had spent many years rescuing Mexican feral dogs and finding homes for them; hundreds of them over her time in San Carlos.  We brought 13 of those dogs with us when we moved to Arizona and 9 came to Oregon.  Below is Hazel, one of the five remaining Mexican ‘rescue’ dogs that are still with us in Oregon.

Hazel doing what she does so well - sleeping.
Hazel doing what she does so well – sleeping.

4 thoughts on “To the Sea of Cortez.

  1. Do seas “literally boil with fish”? I think not, though whoever wrote the script for this film obviously disagrees.

    I watched the film but I found it a bit disjointed. And I found the studied tempo of the narrator’s voice highly irritating; there’s no passion there, it’s as though he’s bored and just doing a job of work. Although the film begins with enticing suggestions of exploring man’s relationship with nature, it doesn’t live up to that.

    But thanks anyway 🙂 There’s some stunning camerawork, and poignant reminders of what we stand to lose.

    Have you seen The End of the Line?

    Like

    1. Must agree with the points you make. It was the camerawork that swept me away. Regarding The End of the Line no, not seen that. But the website looks like the sort of thing that Jeannie and me would want to watch, so will watch the trailer this evening.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.