Born in 1947, Gary Karnes came of age in 1968, a pivotal time in American history. The year began with the Tet Offensive and the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War. It was the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Boeing introduced the jumbo jet. Black athletes staged a silent demonstration against racial prejudice at the Summer Olympic Games, Star Trek aired the first interracial kiss on American television, and Apollo 8 was the first “manned” spacecraft to orbit the moon. It was the year Cesar Chavez, who founded what became the United Farmworkers Union, gained national celebrity as a labor leader and civil rights activist.
A dynamic era to be alive, this was a time that urged citizens to stand up, sit-in, speak out, and march for what they believed in. Gary Karnes commenced from UC Santa Cruz in 1969 with a degree in history, because he believed the way to understand the present was to give it a context from the past. He also imagined the events of his era would hold historical significance in the future.
“Having an opportunity to go to college, to have time to study the world we live in before going to work,” he said, “was amazing. Not everyone has a chance to pursue studies and understand the world better. Not everyone has time to learn, reflect, and also act on it.”
In 1970, Karnes refused induction into the military during the Vietnam War. Charges were dropped when the 9th Circuit Court found the draft board had erred by not granting him Conscientious Objector status. A year later, he co-founded the Monterey County Peace Center in Salinas, and spent two years serving his country by fighting against the war and offering local men draft and G.I. counseling.
More than 50 years later, Gary Karnes has authored “Along Came the Whirlwind: A tale worth telling — My 40 years in Salinas,” because he believes there is something to be learned from his political and personal history of Salinas and the Salinas Valley from 1970 to 2010.
“I came to Salinas as an organizer, an activist, a campaign manager, to change the world. And I did so,” he said, “but I also was changed in the process. This book is for all those who call Salinas ‘home’ or are interested in the affairs of Salinas in the post-Steinbeck era.”
The title of the book, “Along Came the Whirlwind,” is a reference from a Mexican camp song sung ‘round the campfires during the Mexican Revolution. It’s also mentioned in “Old Gringo,” a 1985 novel by Carlos Fuentes, about American author Ambrose Bierce.
“My book is really about people’s struggle with collective strengths,” said Karnes, “and what we can do as a group if we band together. ‘Whirlwind’ refers to a contagious enthusiasm and sense of responsibility to another way to create a better life for one’s self and others.”
Sense of place
Karnes considers himself a historian, less because he majored in history and more because he’s been involved in events he considers of historical significance, events to which he has given much consideration in their occurrence and their impact on today.
“I felt I owed it to Salinas,” he said, “to write down what I’ve witnessed, and share it with people I know, people I worked with, people with whom I struggled, side by side. I knew the era of my Salinas was worth a story.”
Part of Karnes’ writing is about the place and what makes the Salinas Valley so beautiful — the Gabilan and Santa Lucia mountain ranges, the Salinas River, the rich soil — parts of Salinas Karnes’ believes people don’t pay enough attention to, don’t really see or appreciate.
John Steinbeck did.
“I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light, gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. … The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding — unfriendly and dangerous.” – Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”
Karnes, a former docent at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, has read every single one of Steinbeck’s books and some of his short stories. At least once.
“I have a reference to Steinbeck in my book, as he confronted his critics and himself,” Karnes said. “I enjoy his writing and appreciate his style and his love of Salinas. He was out there in his opinions about the world, and he caught flack for it.”
Karnes is particularly intrigued by a short story Steinbeck penned, “Always Something to do in Salinas.” The story, set in the 1930s and published in 1955, excoriates the powers that be, says Karnes, of which his family was a part, making him a traitor to his class.
“While it exposes the foibles, shortcomings, and indiscretions of people,” he said, “it’s a pleasant little story people should read. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to find.”
Most people, says Karnes, have a love or a fascination for a place, often their childhood home, which remains, for whatever reason, memorable. Which is why he felt it just as important to write about Salinas, as it was to tell the stories of what took place there and what has made people feel at home there, no matter what.
“All around the world,” he said, “people live in miserable conditions yet still have a feeling for a place and a reason to feel at home there. People born in Mexico, who came here and spent most of their lives here, often feel they should be buried in Mexico. It’s about having a sense of place.”
Karnes worked for Land Watch, YMCA, CHISPA, In Home Support Services, the Salinas Union High School District, Neighborhood Youth Corps, as a V.I.S.T.A. volunteer, for the Monterey County Housing Coalition, and various labor unions. In addition to “Along Came the Whirlwind,” he wrote “Voices of Change,” presenting the oral histories of local activists and organizers. Although he now lives in Pacific Grove, where he and his partner Heidi Feldman remain voracious readers, he still has a sense of the place known as Salinas.
“Along Came the Whirlwind: A Tale Worth Telling—My 40 Years in Salinas,” was designed and published in late July by Park Place Publications in Pacific Grove, and is available at Bookworks, also in Pacific Grove. Karnes will host a reading and book signing at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at Downtown Book & Sound on Main Street, in Downtown Salinas. A second book event will be hosted at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22, at the Center for Change in Seaside.
Source : https://www.montereyherald.com/2021/10/09/local-author-pens-a-sense-of-place-and-period-during-40-years-in-salinas/1331