Robert Louis Stevenson once started a forest fire, and other Monterey stories. | Literature

No matter whether you arrived a few years ago, or your family has been here for generations, Monterey has secrets that will make your jaw drop. And Pacific Grove-based author David Laws is happy to share 84 of those.

By “Monterey,” he means the larger Monterey area, and his guide, Secret Monterey: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, is part of a larger series by Missouri-headquartered Reedy Press which has been releasing such book guides – with a focus on weird and obscure – for places from New York to New Orleans.

The idea is to give visitors and locals alike unusual knowledge about a place and its history. Each page contains a “vignette,” Laws says, with a catchy title – “Do you speak Rumsen?” [a local indigenous language widely spoken at the time of Spanish colonization] one page asks – and a chart with quick facts and pictures, taken by Laws himself. Most are black and white, but there is a glossy, full-color collection of beautiful photos in the middle of the book.

“The biggest satisfaction is when someone has been here 40, 60 years and they tell me they found in a book something they didn’t know,” Laws says. “I urge everybody to be curious. Stay behind the story. Ask questions.”

Laws has always been curious. He was born in 1941 in London, six weeks ahead of the schedule, he says, a fact his mother attributed to this very trait – his immense curiosity. His interest in science and degree in physics brought him to Silicon Valley in the 1960s, where he spent decades as a tech executive. An amateur writer and photographer, Laws didn’t get to explore those passions until his retirement in Pacific Grove.

Secret Monterey is, at its core, a collection of local stories and gossip. The most scandalous is perhaps the one about Robert Louis Stevenson. Locals are very proud to have had this Scottish novelist here for a few months in 1879. However, from Stevenson’s correspondence, we learn that one day he was walking in the forest near P.G. when he suddenly decided to light the green moss on a tree on fire. “I must have been under the influence of Satan,” Stevenson wrote, correctly recognizing that, if caught, he might have been hanged. Who knew?

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