Naturalist Jack Calvin’s “Square-rigged” returns to shelves

Naturalist Jack Calvin’s “Square-rigged” returns to shelves

After years of being out of print, a book by naturalist Jack Calvin is making a comeback thanks to the remaining Calvin family and the Sitka Sound Science Center.

“Square-rigged” is based off of Calvin’s own experiences as a Stanford student who for summer employment sailed on a square-rigged vessel, the Star of Zealand, that left San Francisco Bay and went to Bristol Bay where he worked in the salmon fisheries.

Before Jack Calvin settled down in Sitka, he associated with intellectual members of the Monterey California community such as John Steinbeck, Joseph Campbell, Ed Weston, Richie Lovejoy and Ed Ricketts.

It was his 1929 honeymoon canoe trip from Tacoma, Washington, to Southeast Alaska with Sasha Kashevaroff that brought him to what would become his home. Calvin wrote about that adventure, and in the July of 1933 had that story published in a National Geographic article. Once they reached Sitka, it quickly became apparent how diverse and study-worthy the intertidal life was in the area to the newlywed couple. Ricketts and Campbell traveled up to help research. Calvin’s boat the Grampus was the vessel that carried them along this infamous trip where they collected samples and documented the intertidal area along the Pacific coast.

“They go out and look at the intertidal and they read German poetry… and they drink wine and just have a good ’ol time like we do in Southeast,” said Lisa Busch, the executive director of the non-profit Sitka Sound Science Center.

Those explorations were later known as The Grampus Surveys. The information gathered during those explorations and from explorations executed previous to the Grampus trip brought to light Ricketts and Calvin’s book, “Between Pacific Tides” published in 1939.

“What made this book so special is it didn’t just list everything they saw taxonomically, it grouped things in the intertidal into communities, into ecologies,” Busch said. “This was during a time when ecology wasn’t a part of lexicon. It wasn’t a standard thing like we know now and so these guys Ricketts and Calvin are considered the grandpas of modern marine ecology.”

Stanford University published “Between Pacific Tides.” It is now in its sixth edition and remains as Stanford University’s number one best-selling book that they have ever published.

“It’s had a huge impact on many generations,” Busch said.

Calvin and his wife Sasha decided to put down roots in Sitka, her hometown, and became a big part of the Sitka community.

“He never again felt home unless he was in Alaska. This was the place for him, his love for wild places and his wife and being able to be close to the land,” said Mary Purvis, Jack and Sasha’s granddaughter.

Purvis crewed for Calvin washing dishes and cooking on many of his voyages around Southeast. Purvis remembers her grandfather fondly and feels fortunate to have had such a man in her life.

“Grandpa was very instrumental to the environmental movement,” Purvis said. “Because of my grandpa’s influence, I still haven’t gotten over the wonder. I still scream when I see whales and I’m still awed and stop to look when I see eagles fly over.”

“There’s Calvin’s all over the place,” Busch said. “We’ve had one work for us here at the science center. It’s really cool.”

Calvin started the Sitka Conservation Society and got involved in the environmental movement in the ’60s. In 1980, he was also responsible for putting together the first citizen initiated wilderness area in the nation.

Congress is normally the deciding factor on what areas should be put aside and become sectioned off “but this was the community saying save West Chichagof. Don’t log it all,” Busch said. “It was a very long row to hoe but they did do it.”

Ricketts also spent some time in Sitka and his daughter still lives there.

“In Monterey there has been a resurgence of interest in Ricketts,” Busch explained. “They preserved his lab. There’s an exhibit about him at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; there’s a statue. And Calvin has sort of been forgotten, people really don’t know what (his) contribution was.”

“He took two trips to Bristol Bay, he was very, very enamored with boats,” Purvis said. “(Calvin) saved all the letters that he wrote back and forth with (his fellow crew members). He still had all of that correspondence…”

Originally published by Little and Brown in 1929, “Square-rigged” is a young adult adventure suspense that has a mysterious tang. The book offers an introduction that gives in-depth information on Calvin’s life as well as acknowledgments to those who helped in the process of bringing “Square-rigged” back into print including Larry Calvin, Jack’s nephew who funded the project.

A small, but important, note on the language of the book can also be found near the beginning. At times the dialect and attitude found in the writing can be seen as offensive today.

“It’s kind of like changing Huck Finn,” Busch explained. “You can’t change the language. So we didn’t. That’s the only thing, for some people, that might turn them off from reading the book, but it was the language of the time. It’s a very authentic book. It is what a square-rigged boat is like and (Calvin) names everything perfectly. That is really special about the book. He describes life aboard a square-rigged vessel back in the day. It is a slice of history that I think sometimes we’re a little bit removed from in Alaska, but that was definitely part of our history. (Square-rigged boats) were here.”

The Sitka Sound Science Center is raising the profile for Ricketts and Calvin. They’ve named two of their labs after them; they’ve also resurveyed the Ricketts and Calvin intertidal sites; they’ve even engaged the University of California Santa Cruz Marine Ecology Program.

“We wanted to remind the community of (Sitka’s) role in this really important moment in the history of science,” Busch said. “By republishing this book that is also part of helping remind the community that ‘Hey! There’s some great people that came from Sitka.’”

Why is this remembrance so important? Busch had an amazing answer: “I think when these guys were all living in Monterey in the 1920s and ’30s they were just buddies. They’re pals like you and me getting together with their friends and having interesting conversations across disciplines over a good meal, and we do that here too in Southeast, right? That’s important to our culture. And we could have people with really big, great ideas that we’re interacting with every day too, you know. These people came from a community and now they are part of our community’s history and we really don’t know who’s going to come up with the next big idea. I think sometimes in the science realm sometimes we think that science is happening in a box some place over here. In a lab, in a box, in a corporation, in a university, but a lot of really big scientific ideas happen at these cross discipline points. Where you get people together who are interested in music and in art and writing and science and the intertidal… I’ve lived in Sitka for almost 30 years and that’s one of the really fun parts about living in a really small town… It creates this cross-pollination that’s just so wonderful for ideas. Whether it’s for science, the community, art, or education the point is: ideas.”

“Cannery Row” by John Steinbeck, “Ed Ricketts From Cannery Row to Sitka, Alaska” “Between Pacific Tides”and now “Square-rigged” are all part of the collection of books that the Sitka Sound Science Center is helping to set up to help remind the community of the important role that they played in science and the possibility for new ideas. Calvin also wrote a sequel to “Square-rigged” called “Fisherman 28”that tells the story of what happens once arriving in Bristol Bay, unpacking the fish camp and the processing. Although still out of print Busch and the rest of the Sitka Sound Science Center plan on it being the next project they work on as long as all goes well with the reappearance of “Square-rigged.”

The book can be found in Juneau’s Alaska State Museum, Hearthside Books; in Sitka it can be found at Old Harbor Books, the Sitka Sound Science Center, or it can be ordered online through

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