‘Soulmates with Paws’ author’s leash to John Steinbeck

Cal Orey / Special to the Tribune
Cal Orey and her beloved Australian Shepherd.

As seasoned author living at South Lake Tahoe, I give credit to author John Steinbeck who lived and wrote here before I did. It was his adventurous lifestyle and love for dogs that paved the road for me…

 We both were close to many Golden State regions (including Gilroy, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and the sierras). Enter Gilroy: It is a city in Northern California’s Santa Clara County, south of Morgan Hill, and has decades of flashbacks for me.

In the eighties, I took a bus out of San Jose and performed hours of research in the John Steinbeck Library in Salinas; later writing a story about the author and his love for canines, published in Dog World Magazine. And I chose Steinbeck who was born in Salinas and lived in Carmel as one of my three authors to study for the oral exams in graduate school at San Francisco State University.

Not to forget, as a fan of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, inspired, I hitched and hiked with my dog, a black Lab, across the U.S., and ended up on the South Shore.

Secluded in the Sierras with Soulmates with Paws

These days, I continue to write books and non-fiction novels in my cabin. Like Steinbeck, I have a loyal canine by my side–and during the epic and surreal California superstorms of 2023. Surrounded by heavy wet snow, road closures, and power outages on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, while SF Bay Area and Central CA was flooded — it was worst of times. But I had my dog named Skye, a warmhearted Australian shepherd (and cat) to comfort me. 

 In 1925, Steinbeck left Stanford without a degree, traveled to New York City, and worked. Soon he returned to California and accepted a job in 1927 as a caretaker for an isolated estate on Fallen Leaf Lake in the high Sierras near Lake Tahoe. In Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten, a letter is dated Dec. 5, 1929, and addressed to A. Grove Day, a former classmate: “ … Well, I went to the mountains and stayed two years. I was snowed in eight months of the year and saw no one except my two Airedales …” However, the novelist struggling with his first work exaggerated a bit, because he did indeed have a few visitors, according to his detailed letters to other friends. In fact, one visitor was a game warden who owned “Otto,” a six-foot long dog (but not a Dachshund) noted Steinbeck). John’s dog Omar, a big, friendly Airedale (later he got two to combat loneliness) had attacked the warden’s dog. In a letter to an old girlfriend Steinbeck added some graphic points: “… It was while he was joyfully eating off Otto’s right leg that I threw a bucket of water on him.” Unfortunately, he forgot to take the fish he illegally caught out of the bucket.

When he was 60 years old, Steinbeck traveled across the U.S. accompanied by Charley, a Standard Poodle. He drove a truck named for Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinate. Steinbeck wrote feelingly about the country that he and Charley met, but frankly, without the dog his book Travels with Charley: In Search of America would have lost much of its gusto and charm.

On Dec. 20, 1968, John Steinbeck died with his dog Angel, a Bull Terrier, at his side. He was 66. Steinbeck researcher Pauline Pearson stated with conviction: “He had always had a dog, always had a garden and always wanted to live by the sea.” Indeed, the author had enjoyed a good many dogs throughout most of his lifetime, most of them characters.

Perhaps too, when columnist and personal friend Ed Sheehan made the following observation in his article “Sensitive Writer in a Man-Shell of Gruffness” he was seeing the true colors of John Steinbeck: “ … He saw the nobility in a hobo, felt the sadness of seasons and believed dogs could smile … ”

Excerpt from “Soulmates with Paws: A Collection of Tales & Tails” by Cal Orey, published by AuthorHouse. Available at online bookstores and at Amazon.

Cal Orey and her beloved Australian Shepherd.

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