Travels with Charley, a smart dog

American novelist John Steinbeck was obviously a smart guy. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962. That same year, he published “Travels with Charley,” an account of driving across the country and back with his faithful but sometimes ailing canine companion.

However, in one respect Charley acts smarter than the writer. Somewhere in Ohio, Steinbeck pulls the camper for the night into a place infested with flies. “For the first time i got out the bug bomb and sprayed heavily, and Charley broke into a sneezing attack so violent and prolonged that I had finally to carry him out in my arms. ” The same thing happened again in the morning. “I never saw such a severe allergy,” Steinbeck concludes.

Charley was smart enough to sense that he was being poisoned by a pesticide and he wanted out. That was in an era when elms were still being sprayed to try to save them from Dutch Elm Disease and kids ran along in the spray.

1962 was also the year that Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring.” If Steinbeck had had a chance to read that epoch-making warning about pesticides before writing “Travels with Charley,” he would have recognized a toxic chemical spray when he saw one. And if he had read Carson before his trip in 1960, he probably wouldn’t have sprayed around poor Charley at all. He did learn that on his own, though, because whenever he sprayed thereafter, “I had to close Charley out and air out the house or cab after the pests were dead.”

All that spraying probably wasn’t too good for Steinbeck either; he died in 1968 at the age of 66.


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