Travels with Charley: In Search of America

I recently finished the book Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. It is not often that a book, TV show or movie requires me to stop for a moment to audibly laugh, but this book did so often. Steinbeck paints pictures with words like few writers can. This book is a record of his road trip journey throughout the United States to discover America. He talks of the change in culture and ideals from state to state as it was in the 1960’s. I know many people have read this book and I am embarrassed to just now be reading it myself. For those of you who haven’t read this book, I encourage you to do so. Here are a few of my favorite bits and pieces to encourage you to pick it up for yourself!

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It is impossible to be in this high spinal country without giving thought to the first men who crossed it, the French explorers, the Lewis and Clark men. We fly it in five hours, drive it in a week, dawdle it as I was doing in a month or six weeks. But Lewis and Clark and their party started in St. Louis in 1804 and returned in 1806. And if we get to thinking we are men, we might remember that in the two and a half years of pushing through wild and unknown country to the Pacific ocean and then back, only one man dies and only one deserted. And we get sick if the milk delivery is late and nearly dies of heart failure if there is an elevator strike. What must these men have thought as a really new world unrolled -or was the progress so slow that the impact was lost? I can’t believe they were unimpressed. Certainly their report to the government in an excited and an exciting document. They were not confused. They knew what they had found.

The Pacific is my home ocean; I knew it first, grew up on it’s shore, collected marine animals along the coast. I know its moods, its color, its nature. It was very far inland that I caught the first smell of the Pacific. When one has been long at sea, the smell of land reaches far out to greet one. And the same is true when one has been long inland. I believe I smelled the sea rocks and the kelp and the excitement of churning sea water, the sharpness of iodine and the under odor of washed and ground calcareous shells. Such a far-off and remembered odor comes subtly so that one does not consciously smell it, but rather an electric excitement is released -a kind of boisterous joy. I found myself plunging over  the roads of Washington, as dedicated to the sea as any migrating lemming.

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