Cannery Row and Fremont’s Peak

by solunabirds

Even though I told myself that I’d update every day, I haven’t been doing that. On the bright side, it seems that I’ve managed to survive my road trip so far…

So, Cannery Row.

I visited Cannery Row on the second day of my stay in Salinas. The street was once called Ocean Ave., but its name has since then been changed to Cannery Row after it was immortalized through Steinbeck’s novel of the same name. I actually visited this street twice, but for now I’ll only document what went on during the first day.

First, I paid a visit to the aquarium. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, once the location of a cannery, is situated at the right end of Cannery Row. What makes this aquarium stand apart from the others (mainly the one in Houston) is that fact that it is connected to Monterey Bay. The cafeteria area leads outside to a small outdoor stage that overlooks an entire slice of the bay! If you can imagine, this salted the air with just a touch of sea fragrance. Ahhh. I sat on the bleacher seats for a performance of a brief history of Monterey’s canning business. In a nutshell, Monterey was once a vastly significant source for canned sardines. Cannery Row in particular held some canning businesses that exported canned sardines to the rest of America, most significantly for our troops in the World Wars. However, all this fervent business quickly led to overfishing. When the sardine population diminished drastically, the canneries went out of business, and Cannery Row became almost a ghost town. Steinbeck’s novel took place after the boom, and before the bust.

After the aquarium, I walked around the rest of Cannery Row. Now, the canneries are gone, and Cannery Row functions mainly as a tourist attraction. A lot of the old landmarks have been preserved, some painted over, some converted into gift shops or restaurants. There’s a kind of bustling, old-town feel to the place. The spirit’s been preserved, but without the stink of sardines and the clamor of sardine ships coming in with their silvery nets.

After Cannery Row, I decided to head north to climb Fremont’s Peak. This peak is now part of Fremont’s Peak National Park. It belongs to the Gabilan Mountains, which Steinbeck describes in the opening pages to of East of Eden. He also recounts climbing Fremont’s Peak in his later novel, Travels with Charley.

The drive up the mountain was a trial in itself. The path was narrow and twisting, snaking up the mountain in the evening sunlight. The sun was setting by the time I got there, which placed it at eye level to me as I drove up. What eased the pain of this trip up was the absolute beauty of the landscape: the rolling green farmlands, the mountains emblazoned in glowing hues in the background. Even the path, despite its vicious undulations, flaunted a rare beauty; trees peppered the roadsides, and as the evening light pierced through their leaves, the path appeared sun-dappled, almost painted. Once I reached the parking lot, I looked for a way to climb up the last half-mile or so to the very top of the mountain, but I couldn’t find one. All the trails I discovered went down. When the sun was about to set, I gave up. I already had a grand view from where I parked.

As I stood atop Fremont’s Peak – not the very top, but close enough – I could see the sun sinking into an ocean of clouds soaked in pinks and reds and darker yellows. I could see the valley below: Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, with its neat plots of land and its small, quaint houses. Though this was not my home, I viewed it with a nostalgia that Steinbeck might have felt as he looked down at the valley with his dear friend Charley. The words from his book resonate within me.

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.

You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.

I have my own childhood home, and all the memories buried within it. I’ve tried going back many times, but each time found that I could not. I didn’t fit anymore. The old neighborhood and winding streets that I had once declared my own had shrunk without me in it.

So I, also, could not take the same journey twice. No one can truly ever return home.

It’s a bittersweet feeling.