Between Pacific Tides: An Appreciation


cover of the fifth edition

Twenty years ago, a dear friend gave me a copy of the fifth edition of Between Pacific Tides, the enduring work by Ed Ricketts and Jack Calvin on the life forms and habitats along the Pacific coast.  At the time, I was re-reading The Log from the Sea of Cortez, marveling in the real-life stories of John Steinbeck’s early years from the time he was living, working, and drinking with Ed Ricketts on Cannery Row.

As a land lubber and a Midwesterner whose only knowledge of the sea came through digging for trilobites and other fossils near my home along the limestone banks of the Mississippi River, my world exploded with new questions and a sense of wonder when I discovered this book. It inspired in me a lust for travel to the landscapes along the littoral zone of the Pacific coast.


At Pacific Biological Laboratories on Cannery Row, jars Ricketts used to preserve sea animals remain clustered on shelves on the building’s lower floor, as if he just stepped out to pick up some beers and would be back soon.

A failure in college biology 101, I found Between Pacific Tides to be a tutorial companion to The Log from the Sea of Cortez. It serves as a guide to the life forms Steinbeck described in his story of their journey from Monterey harbor to the untraveled cerulean waters between the Baja and the coast of mainland Mexico.

In years to come, I discovered the Sea of Cortez by foot and by canoe, one rocky cove at a time, with Ricketts as guide and companion. Many of us perform better with the topic of biology in the lab as opposed to the lecture hall. I never make a trip to the coast without my salt-laden 5th edition copy of Between Pacific Tides.

More importantly, the teleological theme illuminated by Steinbeck during his voyage with Ricketts on the Sea of Cortez has helped shape my understanding of life and habitat, form and function requiring an equilibrium for survival. This theme is a constant for me as I use Between Pacific Tides as a field guide or simply a temporary escape to the magic light and smells of Pacific shores.

Every few months, the city of Monterey offers free public tours of Ed Rickett’s lab: highly recommended for literary/historical types [Click for Info]

Greg Knipe is older than he looks (and acts), falls well, and has never followed the best advice he ever received, from the very reverend Buff Grace: “Keep your mouth shut, smile a lot, and keep your hat on.”

slideshow photos: Richard Teufel

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