by: Isabella Kong
Ever since I was four years old, my parents made it a priority to instill in me an immense love and appreciation for the ocean and ocean conservation. They accomplished this by filling our home with a series of oil paintings, which depicted an abstract illustration of the same tidepool during different times of the day, our community bookshelves with A-Z sea creature dictionaries and travel memoirs written by Jacques Cousteau, and our summer breaks with highly-anticipated trips up the coast to Monterey Bay, California.
I remember the days when my parents would take my sister and me out of school early, a couple days before summer break began, and we would eagerly await our arrival in Monterey. The five hour drives, although often times unbearable, were always worth it because when I stepped out of the car for the first time, upon arriving in Monterey, I felt like I had finally come home. It was what I called an “enchanted” place, and 12 years later, the magic has yet to fade.
Monterey is a small coastal city located in Monterey County which is situated on California’s Central Coast (think Northern California near San Jose and Santa Cruz). It’s an eclectic town most commonly known for the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium that sits at the very end of Cannery Row.
The city is not only a popular destination for family vacations and weddings, but it is also the birthplace of the brilliant poet and American author, John Steinbeck (yes, the same John Steinbeck who wrote The Grapes of Wrath). The city celebrates his legacy and credits him for shaping Monterey into the cultural hub of diversity that it is today. He was said to have had a certain attachment to Monterey County, a deep admiration that shone frequently throughout his work.
Walking down Cannery Row exhilarates me, knowing that John Steinbeck once walked these same cobblestone roads, inspired by the salty air and the frequent squeaking of the otters as they tether themselves to the kelp forests and crack open a morning snack in pure bliss.
Our trips to Monterey Bay are never complete without the essential day trip to the aquarium. No matter how many times we go, it never disappoints. And despite the fact that we have the entire internal layout of the aquarium committed to memory, it’s the one place that always manages to surprise me. The sea life blooms with a certain energy that I can only describe as electric. I always love walking in with my family immediately greeted by the life-size, ceramic Blue Whale that hangs from the ceiling, a perspective which always humbles me. While every inch of the aquarium seethes with life and opportunities for exploration, my favorite exhibit is the first display guests see upon walking into the aquarium: the Kelp Forest.
The Kelp Forest exhibit dramatically extends from the ceiling all the way down to the floor. I always stop in complete awe, assiduously scanning from the deep purple urchins, settled stoically upon the sandy floor to the constant swaying and drifting of the leafy kelp, illuminated by the sun’s rays. I intensely observe all of the organisms in my line of sight. I think this is my favorite exhibit because it reminds me of my own community.
A kelp forest is a highly-functioning and dynamic ecosystem that depends heavily on certain ecological roles played by different species. It’s important to maintain this balance in order to achieve absolute harmony, and it’s amazing to me that a Kelp Forest ecosystem can perfect this idea.
To me, Monterey, California represents a cornerstone where all of the things that I’m truly passionate about intersect to create a gorgeous, sweet symphony of nostalgia and, at the same time, hope and excitement for the future. In many ways, it represents my own identity, the uncertain aspects of life, in the way that it is unplanned yet harmonious.
It’s the place where I grew up, the place I feel most comfortable, but most importantly, it’s a city I’ll never get bored of. I can always look forward to expecting something different with each trip up the coast, whether it’s admiring a pristine, beach-side wedding ceremony from afar or marveling at the pops of deep greens and plum purples when exploring the intricate the inner workings of a hidden tidepool; it’s a new world every time.
About the Writer: Isabella Kong (Cornell ’21) is an Environmental and Sustainability Sciences major from Claremont, California. She and her family take frequent trips up the coast to Monterey, California, her favorite city, to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and explore Cannery Row, a quaint, waterfront street rooted in history and fond memories of her childhood.
About Guac: Guac is an award-winning travel publication run by an interdisciplinary group of students at Cornell University. We aim to inspire our readers to celebrate cultural diversity and view the world with an open mind through delivering unique stories from people around the world.
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