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Books, Camping, The GET 1

Hemingway on Camping

Today marks the anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death — by his own hand — on July 2, 1961. Hemingway was a notorious outdoorsman, having learned to hunt, fish and appreciate the outdoors in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. At the time of his death he owned multiple fishing world records, had suffered and endured two plane crashes while on safari in Africa, had fought bulls in Spain, and boxed heavyweight champions (and won). Many of his works, especially his “Nick Adams” stories, contain masterfully crafted nature prose. His short stories Big Two-Hearted River (Parts I & II) contain nearly flawless descriptors on how to make flapjacks in a cast iron skillet over a campfire or how to fly fish:

“…he let out line against the pull of the grasshopper in the current. He stripped off line from the reel with his left hand and let it run free…There was a tug on the line…Holding the now living rod across the current, he brought in the line with his left hand…”

Hemingway Fishing

Hemingway’s prose is still celebrated and revered — on the surface — for its conciseness and omission of any superfluous or extraneous matter and for what is now called the “Iceberg Theory.” These forms together created the Hemingway style. The conciseness was derived from his years as a reporter for the Kansas City Star whose stylebook he credited as containing “the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing.” Among the rules were (1) Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative and (2) Eliminate every superfluous word.

The “Iceberg Theory” was Hemingway’s conception. He explained that “you could omit anything…and the omitted part would strengthen the story.” Hemingway honed his craft so that he could “prune language and avoid waste” in order to multiply the intensity. In doing so, where a casual reader can enjoy “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” for its detail of big-game safaris in Africa (the tip of the iceberg), a skilled reader — with their ability to read deeper — can pick up on themes of cowardice, adultery, fear, and the imbalance between masculine and feminine archetypes.

Many of Hemingway’s “Nick Adams” stories are peppered with references to Native Americans (most likely Ojibway) whom he encountered frequently in the UP during his youth. In one passage of the haunting “Fathers and Sons” Hemingway captures the romance of first love (a white Nick Adams with an Ojibway girl), with his father’s ridicule looming in the distance:

“Could you say she did first what no one has ever done better and mention plump brown legs, flat belly, hard little breasts, well holding arms, quick searching tongue, the flat eyes, the good taste of mouth, then uncomfortably, tightly, sweetly, moistly, lovely, tightly, achingly, fully, finally, unendingly, never-endingly, never-to- endingly, suddenly ended, the great bird flown like an owl in the twilight, only in daylight in the woods and hemlock needles stuck against your belly.”

Let us honor Hemingway the Romantic, the Writer, the Nature Lover, and Outdoorsman! Fish by day, drink rum by night!

Hemingway Trout Fishing

“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” – Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway on Camping

This was an article written by Hemingway in 1920 for the Toronto Daily Star

Thousands of people will go into the bush this summer to cut the high cost of living. A man who gets his two weeks’ salary while he is on vacation should be able to put those two weeks in fishing and camping and be able to save one week’s salary clear. He ought to be able to sleep comfortably every night, to eat well every day and to return to the city rested and in good condition.

But if he goes into the woods with a frying pan, an ignorance of black flies and mosquitoes, and a great and abiding lack of knowledge about cookery, the chances are that his return will be very different. He will come back with enough mosquito bites to make the back of his neck look like a relief map of the Caucasus. His digestion will be wrecked after a valiant battle to assimilate half-cooked or charred grub. And he won’t have had a decent night’s sleep while he has been gone.

He will solemnly raise his right hand and inform you that he has joined the grand army of never-agains. The call of the wild may be all right, but it’s a dog’s life. He’s heard the call of the tame with both ears. Waiter, bring him an order of milk toast.

In the first place he overlooked the insects. Black flies, no-see-ums, deer flies, gnats and mosquitoes were instituted by the devil to force people to live in cities where he could get at them better. If it weren’t for them everybody would live in the bush and he would be out of work. It was a rather successful invention.

But there are lots of dopes that will counteract the pests. The simplest perhaps is oil of citronella. Two bits’ worth of this purchased at any pharmacist’s will be enough to last for two weeks in the worst fly and mosquito-ridden country.

Rub a little on the back of your neck, your forehead and your wrists before you start fishing, and the blacks and skeeters will shun you. The odor of citronella is not offensive to people. It smells like gun oil. But the bugs do hate it.

Oil of pennyroyal and eucalyptol are also much hated by mosquitoes, and with citronella they form the basis for many proprietary preparations. But it is cheaper and better to buy the straight citronella. Put a little on the mosquito netting that covers the front of your pup tent or canoe tent at night, and you won’t be bothered.

To be really rested and get any benefit out of a vacation a man must get a good night’s sleep every night. The first requisite for this is to have plenty of cover. It is twice as cold as you expect it will be in the bush four nights out of five, and a good plan is to take just double the bedding that you think you will need. An old quilt that you can wrap up in is as warm as two blankets.

Nearly all outdoor writers rhapsodize over the browse bed. It is all right for the man who knows how to make one and has plenty of time. But in a succession of one-night camps on a canoe trip all you need is level ground for your tent floor and you will sleep all right if you have plenty of covers under you. Take twice as much cover as you think that you will need, and then put two-thirds of it under you. You will sleep warm and get your rest.

When it is clear weather you don’t need to pitch your tent if you are only stopping for the night. Drive four stakes at the head of your made-up bed and drape your mosquito bar over that, then you can sleep like a log and laugh at the mosquitoes.

Outside of insects and bum sleeping the rock that wrecks most camping trips is cooking. The average tyro’s idea of cooking is to fry everything and fry it good and plenty. Now, a frying pan is a most necessary thing to any trip, but you also need the old stew kettle and the folding reflector baker.

A pan of fried trout can’t be bettered and they don’t cost any more than ever. But there is a good and bad way of frying them.

The beginner puts his trout and his bacon in and over a brightly burning fire; the bacon curls up and dries into a dry tasteless cinder and the trout is burned outside while it is still raw inside. He eats them and it is all right if he is only out for the day and going home to a good meal at night. But if he is going to face more trout and bacon the next morning and other equally well-cooked dishes for the remainder of two weeks he is on the pathway to nervous dyspepsia.

The proper way is to cook over coals. Have several cans of Crisco or Cotosuet or one of the vegetable shortenings along that are as good as lard and excellent for all kinds of shortening. Put the bacon in and when it is about half cooked lay the trout in the hot grease, dipping them in corn meal first. Then put the bacon on top of the trout and it will baste them as it slowly cooks.

The coffee can be boiling at the same time and in a smaller skillet pancakes being made that are satisfying the other campers while they are waiting for the trout.

With the prepared pancake flours you take a cupful of pancake flour and add a cup of water. Mix the water and flour and as soon as the lumps are out it is ready for cooking. Have the skillet hot and keep it well greased. Drop the batter in and as soon as it is done on one side loosen it in the skillet and flip it over. Apple butter, syrup or cinnamon and sugar go well with the cakes.

While the crowd have taken the edge from their appetites with flapjacks the trout have been cooked and they and the bacon are ready to serve. The trout are crisp outside and firm and pink inside and the bacon is well done–but not too done. If there is anything better than that combination the writer has yet to taste it in a lifetime devoted largely and studiously to eating.

The stew kettle will cook your dried apricots when they have resumed their predried plumpness after a night of soaking, it will serve to concoct a mulligan in, and it will cook macaroni. When you are not using it, it should be boiling water for the dishes.

In the baker, mere man comes into his own, for he can make a pie that to his bush appetite will have it all over the product that mother used to make, like a tent. Men have always believed that there was something mysterious and difficult about making a pie. Here is a great secret. There is nothing to it. We’ve been kidded for years. Any man of average office intelligence can make at least as good a pie as his wife.

All there is to a pie is a cup and a half of flour, one-half teaspoonful of salt, one-half cup of lard and cold water. That will make pie crust that will bring tears of joy into your camping partner’s eyes.

Mix the salt with the flour, work the lard into the flour, make it up into a good workmanlike dough with cold water. Spread some flour on the back of a box or something flat, and pat the dough around a while. Then roll it out with whatever kind of round bottle you prefer. Put a little more lard on the surface of the sheet of dough and then slosh a little flour on and roll it up and then roll it out again with the bottle.

Cut out a piece of the rolled out dough big enough to line a pie tin. I like the kind with holes in the bottom. Then put in your dried apples that have soaked all night and been sweetened, or your apricots, or your blueberries, and then take another sheet of the dough and drape it gracefully over the top, soldering it down at the edges with your fingers. Cut a couple of slits in the top dough sheet and prick it a few times with a fork in an artistic manner.

Put it in the baker with a good slow fire for forty-five minutes and then take it out and if your pals are Frenchmen they will kiss you. The penalty for knowing how to cook is that the others will make you do all the cooking.

It is all right to talk about roughing it in the woods. But the real woodsman is the man who can be really comfortable in the bush.

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  • [...] perhaps the last of a short line of heavy-drinking, fist-fighting, intellectual outdoorsman, a la Hemingway. Brautigan’s drug-fueled escapades are well known, McGuane’s less so. Yet these three [...]

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