Every spring for more than 25 years now, I re-read Hemingway’s “The Big Two-Hearted River.” It is to my mind the best story about fishing ever written. It is also one of the 5 best short stories ever published.
In the early 1980‘s my friend Bob and I camped and fished the Escanaba River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He was summering in Minnesota at that time and I was in Saginaw, Michigan. In honor of Hemingway and friendship we met and spent a week drinking, fishing and camping on the river. Where we camped, just below a bend in the river, there were wild raspberries. In the evening we ate trout and raspberries and drank Jim Beam.
Hemingway’s main character in “The Big Two-Hearted River,” Nick, was a bait fisherman. It is a personal failing I have always been able to overlook, but I know there are real fly-fisherman out there who cannot. I wish that I could be a purest about fishing, but I can’t. In fishing as well as in beer and bourbon, I am no snob.
I think I remember reading one time that Hemingway’s typewriter had a broken space bar so that he always had two spaces between words. Even if that were not true, it should be. Hemingway writes closer to poetry than almost any prose writer I know. Maybe it was having each word so isolated on a sheet of paper.
When you are standing in a stream fishing, you can look down and see the stony bottom. In the summer light each stone seems to glow with colors unlike any of its counterparts. When the light is right sometimes you see the smooth shadows of trout moving across the rocks. When you reach down to pick up a rock that especially catches your eye you always find that it is much deeper than your eye tells you it is. When you pull it up, it is a wet jewel that dazzles. But in the air it quickly dries and its color fades. When you toss it back in, it blinks and dances to the bottom. Resting again among its kind in a different place upon the bottom of the stream, it re-acquires most of its former glory.
I do not get to fish much these days. I know there will be a time when I will get to fish again. When I will be able to stand in a stream again and feel the tug of a trout on the end of my line.
I do not get to fish, but I can still read. So I re-read “The Big Two-Hearted River” every spring and I remember the rivers and streams I have fished from Montana to Michigan. I remember trout I have held wet and trembling in my hand. I remember long summer afternoons and cool mountain mornings. I remember beauty and the way beauty can renew and recharge you. I read “The Big Two-Hearted River” and it is spring again.