The Double Cone Quarterly
Window to the Wilderness
Spring Equinox 2000 || Volume III, Number 1

"Flight" by John Steinbeck


by Jack McKellar

"Flight", a short story by John Steinbeck, evokes the imagery and reality of the Santa Lucias along with animal and reptilian mysticism. The story is best found in The Long Valley, a collection of his stories first published in 1938.

As the story goes, Pepe, who lives with his mother and siblings on the coast 15 miles south of Monterey, is sent to town for medicine. His mother notes his penchant for laziness and knife throwing as evil and so the assignment. However, Pepe feels that his mother need not worry because "I am a man now, Mama."

He returns in early morning with the news of murdering a man with his throwing knife. His mother feels that he must leave for the high mountains, so as to escape capture. Preparations are made and he and his horse leave with provisions.

The story chronicles his flight into and through the Santa Lucias with his captors in pursuit. It is a difficult task because of the terrain and then...

As said earlier, it is Steinbeck's imagery that brings the wilderness journey alive and moves it from somewhat sublime to considerably dangerous. Consider the following lines:

"...a well worn path, dark soft-leaf mould earth strewn with broken pieces of sandstone..."

"The air was parched and full of light dust blown by the breeze from the eroding mountains"

"The...wind coasted sighing through the pass and whistled on the edges...of broken granite"

"Its long thick tail waved gracefully, its ears were erect with interest, now laid back dangerously. The lion squatted down on its stomach and watched him."

"...a sharp ridge stood up,thinly brushed with starving sage,littered with broken granite"

"...giant sentinel redwoods guarded the trail, great round red trunks bearing foliage as green and lacy as ferns."

Sound familiar? We have all walked these lines.

Steinbeck wrote again of these areas. Consider reading his 1933 book To a God Unknown, or another short story from The Long Valley entitled "The Murder."

J C McKellar

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