If that sounds a little reluctant, that’s because it is. When my brother and I set out to write Ink Trails II, the voices of readers were ringing in our ears.
Why didn’t you include Hemingway in your book?
It’s not complete unless Hemingway’s included.
Hemingway had a strong connection to Michigan.
Did you forget about Hemingway?
No, we didn’t. Forgetting about Hemingway for a Michigander is like forgetting about the Great Lakes. They both loom large. They’re both on the map.
We didn’t include Hemingway in Ink Trails because we felt that everything you could say about Hemingway had been said. Just think how many books and articles have been written about the man and his works. It makes no sense even to try to count.
Many of these writings about Hemingway have been original, insightful, powerful, poetic, or riveting. Many of them have covered the same ground, like men and women with metal detectors trying to find the last penny. Often they have, and we’ve learned from their labor. The odds on finding another last penny seemed long.
But when readers ask for something – and even work up a little clamor for it – authors find it difficult to resist. My brother and I don’t have so large a multitude of fans that we can arrogantly overlook some. Happy that we have readers at all, we listen to them (and if there’s an Ink Trails III, several authors they’ve suggested will be treated).
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter of Ink Trails II entitled, Ernest Miller Hemingway: Man and Nature.
During Hemingway’s youth, a northern Michigan economy once powered by industrial, even rapacious logging was yielding to one based on the lure of its natural beauty to tourists. The slash and desolation of the cutover country slowly gave way to second-growth forest under the careful ministrations of public forestry champions. Something of the haunting glory of the region’s primeval past re-emerged to filter through the woods like moonlight. And something of both a distant past and a disorienting early 20th Century present breathes in the stories this setting helped inspire.
The Nick Adams stories roughly parallel young Ernest’s life. The first pieces portray Nick as a child of six, innocent but awakening; others describe an adolescent exploring pleasures and confounding trials; several trace the experiences of a young man at war; the final stories powerfully and simply tell the voyage of a veteran, still young, to reclaim himself in the woods and streams of the Upper Peninsula.
Not all of the northern Michigan stories are Nick Adams tales. In one of them, Up in Michigan, featuring a character named Jim Gilmore, Hemingway scandalized a publisher and members of his own family with a chronicle of young romance and lust. A sister called it a “vulgar, sordid tale.” The story’s raw denouement with Jim and Liz Coates on a dock has excited distaste, approbation, and deep critique since its publication in 1923.
Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver and served at the European front during World War I. He sustained serious wounds and recuperated for months in hospitals. Like many war veterans, he found his psychic wounds took longer to heal; they may never have done so. The experience of battle and its aftereffects on body and soul are among his central themes.
Perhaps the most moving of the Nick Adams stories is “Big Two-Hearted River,” modeled after the nearby Fox River. After returning from war a hollowed-out man, Nick travels by train to Seney in the eastern Upper Peninsula, disembarks and tramps through country recently ravaged by fire – not unlike the ruins of a battlefield. The close-up, small details of nature – a stream swirling with trout, a kingfisher, and a grasshopper — capture his attention. As the hours pass, his spirit gradually renews. Detached from human company, Nick finds a growing contentment in a simple camp and hours of fishing. The declarative prose for which Hemingway is famous photographs – or paints – a place in time.
If there is any doubt of the influence of northern Michigan landscapes in forming Hemingway’s writing aesthetic, this deleted passage from “Big Two-Hearted River” dispels it:
He, Nick, wanted to write about country so it would be there like Cezanne had done it in painting. You had to do it from inside yourself….He felt almost holy about it. It was deadly serious. You could do it if you would fight it out. If you’d lived right with your eyes. It was a thing you couldn’t talk about….He knew just how Cezanne would paint this stretch of river. God, if he was only here to do it. They died and that was the hell of it. They worked all their lives and then got old and died.
Of this story, published in the collection In Our Time, critic Edmund Wilson said: “Out of the colloquial American speech, with its simple declarative sentences and its strings of Nordic monosyllables, he got effects of the utmost subtlety.” But, Wilson added, “the European sensibility … has come to Big Two Hearted River, where the Indians are now obsolescent; in those solitudes it feels for the first time the cold current, the hot morning sun, sees the pine stumps, smells the sweet fern. And along with the mottled trout, with its ‘clear water-over-gravel color,’ the boy from the American Middle West brings up a fat little masterpiece.”