Are you an Ed Head?
Ed Ricketts, of course.
Ed was the famed marine biologist, ecologist, philosopher, and best friend of Nobel laureate John Steinbeck. The word “legendary” usually precedes Ed’s name. He may be most famous for being the character “Doc” in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, but he also appears as a character in many other Steinbeck novels, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden among them.
He operated Pacific Biological Laboratories just across the street from where the Monterey Bay Aquarium is situated today from 1923 until his death in a car vs. train accident in 1948. His lab was the site of many meetings of the minds in Monterey. Those minds, sometimes refreshed with cheap red wine and cold beer, included Joseph Campbell and Henry Miller in addition to Steinbeck and his muse, his first wife, Carol.
Ricketts and Steinbeck collaborated on Sea of Cortez, publishing by Viking in 1941. The book is the result of a scientific expedition aboard the Western Flyer in the Sea of Cortez off Baja California. It is a mix of the scientific collecting they did and philosophy. Ricketts had earlier written Between Pacific Tides with Jack Calvin, first published by Stanford University Press in 1939. It is still in print today.
Viking later reprinted just the log or narrative portion of Sea of Cortez in 1951, re-titled as The Log From The Sea Of Cortez, crediting only Steinbeck as author. While Steinbeck did write the vast majority of the log, it was based on the journal Ricketts kept during the trip. In the 1951 book, Steinbeck added a 67-page profile of his friend titled About Ed Ricketts. In it Steinbeck is often famously quoted as describing his friend as “half-Christ, half-goat,” although if you actually read the profile, Steinbeck attributes that definition to others.
I was reminded of Ed recenly. After returning from the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America’s Southern California book fair in Pasadena Feb. 7-9, I decided to clean and dust all my bookcases before returning the books to their shelves. This project also involved cleaning the tops of the cases where some other items have sat for some time. One of those items is a matted photo of Ed. It was given to me by a long-gone friend named Graham Wilson, emeritus chairman of the English Department at San Francisco State. He told me, decades ago now, that the photo was taken by famed photographer Peter Stackpole in 1945. The matte job is a rather cheap production. That and the fact that the back of it has a paste up of some magazine article about Ed led me to believe for years that the photo may have been taken by Stackpole, but that it was a magazine photo and not the real deal. Well, curiosity got the better of me during this cleaning and dusting job, so I took the matte off. Lo and behold, it is in fact the real deal, a real photograph of Ed in the tide pool. I doubt there can be a better image of him. That photo is about to be re-matted and framed. It will reside in a more prominent position within my home so I can admire it and think back to the old days when Graham gave it to me. I will also recall a time before me when intellectuals with talents in writing and philosophy and science came together and performed magic that resides with us still.