While I was talking care of my father during his final illness in 1995 I wrote the piece called Whale Children about him taking us to Point Lobos when we were young children. My Friend Celie Plazek, who takes such wonderful photographs there suggested I send it to you. Before I got a chance to send it off I found myself without a book to read one night and went into my study to find one. I settled on a book I had gotten from my father’s bookshelf after cleaning out his house. It is titled POINT LOBOS: An Illustrated Walkers Handbook, written and illustrated by Frances Thompson. I carried it off to bed with me and upon opening it a letter written by my father fell out. Needless to say I was surprised and overjoyed reading the words of the man who taught me about the magic that can happen in such places. After reading it over I am sending the pair of them to you. A two generation observation about a place we loved.
4 August 1982
Dear Ms. Thompson,
My wife gave me your Point Lobos book for Xmas last year and I enjoyed it so much I resolved to write to you about it. The eight months delay testifies to my great skill as a procrastinator. But I hope it’s better late than never.
Thank you for writing-drawing the book. It beautifully depicts one of my favorite places in the world, My first trip there was in 1917. I was 5 years old. We lived in Palo Alto and vacationed in Carmel at the La Playa Hotel - in the old stone part of the present buildings. We just had gotten our first car, a Grant Six touring car. Dad wanted to be sure to leave by six A.M. so we would be sure to get up the steep grade between Monterey and Carmel before dark. We made it, only had to stop on the grade for a short time to let the car cool down and stop the radiator from boiling.
Dad took me for a hike at Point Lobos which I think at the time was still part of the Del Monte properties, at any rate not a state park. I don’t remember where we parked the car but guess it was somewhere near the present entry gate. We then attempted a loop hike out somewhere along the present Cypress Grove Trail which was no real trail. We tried to take a shortcut back to the car which must have been somewhere near the present North Shore Trail but we got lost and struggled around for a long time through sagebrush and woods trying to find our car. So it was early evening when we got back to the La Pays and my mother’s wrath. She was sure we had fallen off a cliff and when that wasn’t true she settled for being sure we had poison oak. We didn’t. I was subjected to a long rough scrubbing in the tub anyway.
As I grew up we continued vacationing at our house in Carmel and I frequently went to Point Lobos my myself or with other boys and had a wonderful time there, fishing, shell collecting, bird watching, insect collecting and just climbing around the rocks, the higher the better.
I still enjoy it and try to get to the Monterey Peninsula at least once a year and go to Point Lobos with great pleasure.
I guess nostalgia prompts some of my ambivalence about the reserve restrictions. I realize that they are designed to protect the reserve as an ecological entity. I try to tell myself that this is good, but it definitely isn’t the 10 year old boy’s place of wonder and excitement that it was for me. I was fortunate to have my children enjoy it as much as I did. And four of my grandchildren got to bedevil the bluefish in Whaler’s Cove before the no-fishing ban took effect.
Hope to get down there at the end of the month and will certainly have your book with me. It this letter goes on much longer you’ll be sorry you wrote the book. Once again thanks for it. I really did enjoy it.
“You will find something more in woods than in books.
Trees and stones will teach you that which you can
never learn from the Masters.” Bernard of Clairvaux
Until I was four my family went to Carmel for vacations. Our house was two streets up from the sea. Not wanting to be bothered by their pesty little sister, Jimmy and Michael got up extra early and quietly snuck out of the house and down to the beach without me tagging along. Getting to the beach before any other people did allowed us to find the treasured unbroken sand dollars, washed up with the nights high tide. Upon awakening, I would hurry to my brother’s room, check to see if they were still there then run after them to the beach, down the tree lined lane, my feet crunched their leaves and pods releasing the smell that has forever tied me to that place.
Later in the day Daddy would drive us to Point Lobos where he turned us loose and we were able to explore and hike unimpeded by time. It seemed like the place was ours. Looking down to the crashing surf from a narrow gravel strewn trail helped me learn the difference between things that are dangerous and those that are just scary. At Whaler’s Cove we spent countless hours playing in the sun bleached bones of a whale, wired back together to form its original shape and became captain and crew of the whaling boat next to it. It was a perfect place for us. Whale children.
The sounds of the waves are as old and safe a part of my memory as there is. When the tide was low Daddy took us to Pacific Grove where he taught me the names of all the creatures that live in the intertidal zone, that place between high and low tides, exposed only when the moon pulls the sea back like a wet curtain, off the beach and rocks, revealing the tide pools which we clambered over like delighted crabs. Daddy made me dolls from the bull kelp that washed up on the shore, taking out his bone handled pocket knife to carve faces into their big bulbous heads while I made beds of sand for their eternal sleep.
He introduced me to the man wearing the hat who was near us on the rocks. He was collecting things in pails. Ed Rickets. Marine biologist. Pal of John Steinbeck. Rickets was Doc in Steinbeck’s book Cannery Row. I got to go into his laboratory by the Monterey Bay and see the things he collected. Even today I can remember what it smelled like. Remember Daddy’s hand clinging to mine, trying to restrain me as I looked in fascination at the tanks and jars full of things that came from the sea.
That same life in the sea left in me an imprint as deep as the imprint the creek a salmon hatches out of. I took all of my children to the tide pools just as soon as they were old enough to stand up in them, just like my dad did with me. I couldn’t imagine letting them grow up without the particular kind of baptism that comes with re-immersion in the very place life formed on this planet.