The other day, I found myself shooting south from San Francisco, down California’s Highway 101. Once through the Bay Area, past San Jose, the look of the drive changes significantly.
No more high-tech corporate headquarters campuses. No overly cute billboards. No knots of traffic. Not a Prius in sight, only trucks. Nothing you’d see in the driveway of a suburban house. These are working trucks.
And so, I entered the Salinas Valley, the place Steinbeck brought to life in ‘East of Eden,’ ‘Of Mice and Men,’ and many other of his stories. The closer I got to my destination, the pretty little city of Gonzales, the more I came to recall the opening of ‘East of Eden.’
The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.
. I remember my childhood names for the grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer – and what trees and seasons smelled like – how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.
My window was down on this chilly November morning, and I could smell those smells too. And I was transported to a time when a young John Steinbeck lived and played and grew, like the trees and the grasses, among the green fields of the Salinas Valley.