Newcomer Alaskan Romano-Lax heads south to Mexican waters, charting the changes 62 years after Steinbeck's famous travels by shrimp seiner.
Just before he got his Pulitzer for The Grapes of Wrath, the author and his biologist friend Ed Ricketts spent weeks collecting sea creatures and impressions, getting drunk, and more: “We search for something that will seem like truth to us; we search for understanding; we search for that principle which keys us deeply into the pattern of all life,” Steinbeck wrote in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Romano-Lax, accompanied by her husband and two children, is on something of the same quest in her own fashion; she seeks not for the keys to the universe but for understanding of what is happening to the Sea of Cortez, all but written off for dead by many environmentalists and journalists. She wonders if the creatures Steinbeck and Ricketts catalogued are still in evidence and, if so, in what abundance. In fact, she finds many of them, sometimes in great profusion; to her way of thinking, this indicates a population in flux, an opinion buttressed by her talks with local fishermen, who speak of the ups and downs of catches. These detailed observations come wrapped in the entertaining story of the family’s voyage, which begins on a too-small boat in the company of her brother-in-law, Mr. Mood Swing, and continues in its second half as a combined road-kayak venture, with towns and harbors both getting good descriptions. Romano-Lax is a sharp delineator, whether seeing the water's surface as turquoise-tinted mercury or musing on Steinbeck's musings: “They were just fishing: putting out a long line into the dreamy current, to see what might bite.” The environmental picture of the Sea of Cortez is nowhere near complete, but her trip adds substantial strokes to the portrait.
An appealingly shoestring odyssey chronicled with engaging, ever-ready curiosity.