In the spring of 1919, Ernest Hemingway longed for the healing powers of Michigan’s woods and water. He was recovering from serious physical and emotional injuries suffered in World War I and a heart broken by a woman he thought would be his wife. The Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University houses a letter in which he urges Jim Gamble, a war-time friend, to join him in Northern Michigan. It speaks of Hemingway’s own condition and those things that made this area so special to him.
Letter courtesy Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University | Michael Federspiel, President, Michigan Hemingway Society.
April 18, 1919
Man it was good to hear from you! I’d been wanting to write you here in the states but couldn’t figure but that you might be in Madiera. Why Chief I feel any amount more kindly toward this country now that you’re in it. It isn’t such a bad place now with the exception of the approaching aridity. But Taormina is not dry.
I’m so darn glad to hear from you that I don’t know what to write. The occasion is not one for writing but for grasping of the hand, greetings and perhaps the proposal of a toast. It is a time for the having of another. I’m writing this at my desk in my room, having hopped out of bed as soon as I’d read your letter a couple of times. On the left is a well filled book case containing Strega, Cinzano Vermouth, kummel and martell cognac. All these were got after an exhaustive search of Chicago’s resources. If it were not nine o’clock in the morning, I would suggest compounding of a Gamblers Delight. Cinquante martell and vermouth.
There is a good deal of news which should be retailed to you tho. First I am now a free man. All entangling alliances ceased about a month ago and I know now I am most damnably lucky – tho of course I couldn’t see it at the time. Anyway everything is finished and the less said about it, as always with the unfair sex, the better. I did love the girl, though I know now that the paucity of Americans doubtless had a great deal to do with it. And now it’s over and I’m glad, but I’m not sorry it happened because, Jim, I figure it does you good to love anyone. Through good fortune I escaped matrimony so why should I grumble? Not being philosophical though, it was a devil of a jolt because I’d given up everything for her most especially Taormina. And as soon as the Definite Object was removed queque kicks were implanted upon the w.k. ass for my ever leaving Italy. The first time you’re jilted tho is supposed to be the hardest. At any rate I’m now free to do whatever I want. Go wherever I want and have all the time in the world to develop into some kind of writer.
And I can fall in love with anyone I wish which is a great and priceless privilege.
Here are a few bits of gossip of the old gang. Art Thomson writes from Buffalo and is working at his old job. I stopped a couple of days with Bill Horne in Yonkers and he is engaged to some girl there. Bill alleges that she is the most wonderful etc. His remarks had a faintly familiar sound. Bill is a peach tho and an idealist which makes him too good for any woman to marry.
Idealists lead a rough life in this world Jim? But like hermit crabs they acquire shells that they cover their ideals with. But sometimes something comes along with a heavy enough tread to crush the shell and the ideals and all. Any way to return to the gang: I had a letter from Yak Harris and he is down in Ft. Worth Texas doing guess what? Getting a divorce from Mrs. Yak. There is a bit of real news. After twenty four years Yak says, “I’ [space] off all that stuff for life. At least I think I am.” I think that “I think I am” is the best thing I ever heard. While separated from his family Yak may be addressed care Goldberg’s Cigar Store, Yakima, Wash.
Corp Shaw has been out at Coronado but is coming back for the fishing.
Sunday, April 27th
Before I had a chance to finish this they took me off to the hospital and perpetrated another bit of carving. Throat this time. Now I’m at home and darned sorry I didn’t get this finished before I went to the hospital.
It was awfully good of you to ask me to Eagle Mere and I know that we would have a great time, but this is the situation at present. A good pal, who you’d like immediately. Good scout, wonderful sense of humor, and perfect pal is coming to town Wednesday next to stay for a week or so. Bill Smith. Then he is going up north where we go in the summer and open his place up. I’m coming up about the middle of May and we’ve planned to bum and fish around together. I don’t know just when my folks will be going up and as we’re not doing anything to the farm this summer, I think it is all rented out, there is nothing for me to do but go over and help them open up the shack on the other side of the lake. They won’t be coming up until the latter part of June or first of July anyway and I doubt if I will stay with them.
But this is the idea. Bill has a farm which because he was in the service, Marine Flyer, he has rented out almost entirely. So that leaves him free for the summer. This is a priceless place Jim. Horton’s Bay on Pike Lake about twelve miles from Charlevoix. About three hundred miles north of here. It is great northern air. Absolutely the best trout fishing in the country. No exaggeration. Fine country. Good color, good northern atmosphere, absolute freedom, no summer resort stuff and lots of paintable stuff. And if you want to do portraits. You shall do portraits. Bill has a Buick six that we can run into Charlevoix with when we long for the flesh pots. And it is equally good to run over to the Pine Barrens where it is absolutely wild and there are The Big and Little Sturgeon and Minnehaha and Black Trout Rivers. It’s a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country Jim.
And let me tell you about the rainbow fishing. I don’t know whether you are a fisherman or not. But you might be a rank hater of the sport and you would like this kind of fishing.
Across the bay from where we would live is a point. And a little trout river comes into the Bay and makes a channel past this point. There is an old quay alongside and it is from there that we fish. And this is the manner of fishing. We paddle over across the bay and stop at this old lumber dock. Just level with the water. And from the dock we run out about four or five lines into the channel. These are baited with a whole skinned perch which is dropped into the channel and sinks to the bottom. The lines are run out and then we put a weight on the butt of the rod they are run out from and set the click on the reel and wait. Do you get the scene. All the rods sticking out over the side, the clicks set, and the lines running way out into the channel. Then if it is night we have a campfire on the point and sit around and yarn and smoke or if it is daytime we loaf around and read and await results. And these are the results.
A reel goes screeeeeeech, the tip of the rod jerks under water, you run down and grab it up and thumb the reel and then out in the lake a big rainbow shoots up into the air. And then the fight. And Jim those trout can fight. And I’ve never taken one under three pounds out of the Bay and they run as high as fifteen. The biggest I ever took was nine and seven ounces. And you always get a strike. A night’s fishing would average three of the big trout. Though I have taken as high as seven. It is the best rainbow trout fishing in America. Just this one bay and the only thing you can take them on is skinned perch. And nobody knows about it but us. People come down and troll all day for them from Charlevoix and never get a strike. While we will be taking them all day. And Indian taught it to me.
And they break water a dozen times and when you have one you have a regular fish. And it is the most comfortable kind of fishing I’ve ever found. When we feel like doing regular trout fishing we can fish any one of a half hundred good streams for brook trout. But it’s a great life up there just lazing around the old point and always having a line out or so for rainbow. There are trips in the car and trains around Little Traverse Bay to the old Indian missions and some beautiful trips. And Jim we are going to have a wonderful gang up there. Bill who I told you of is a wonder. Then there is Carl Edgar, a Princeton man of the same easy going humorous type as Bill Horne. Who reads fairy tales and swims and fishes when anyone else wants to. He’s been an artillery officer during the late unpleasantness. Carl’s coming in July. Charles Hopkins a newspaper man and general good scout and mighty fisherman and loafer is coming up whenever I write him that everything is ready. Hop is the only one who takes his fishing seriously.
Bill and I have bummed together for years and the four of [us] got together on a trip last year before I went overseas. Bill is known as the Master Biologist because some university decorated him with that degree, Carl as the Oil Maggot, because he owns some kind of oil business somewhere, Hop as the Wily Journalist, or the Bottle Imp and I as the Massive Woodsman. This title entitles me to cut wood and build fires while the Master Biologist and the Maggot lie on their backs and praise my skill.
It’s a great gang Jim and I know you will like them. At Bill’s place is his sister Kate, a rare good scout and good talker and game for any of the parties and Mrs. Charles, Bill’s Aunt who is one of our own people.
Bill’s place can’t put us all up at once so when Hop comes up I’ll move down to Dillworth’s who have the leading house in the four house town of Horton’s Bay and have plenty of beds, good rooms in a cottage and cooking that I’ve been wanting to get to ever since I came back from Italy. Very reasonable rates and the food and accommodations are splendid. We could have a great time Jim. Why can’t you come up? We could work and we could have a wonderful time. I don’t see why you can’t. It is great there all during June, July, August, and September. And I’ll probably be up there all that time so I don’t see any reason you can’t come up and stay just as long as you can.
I’m all up in the air about what to do next fall. Wish a war would come along and solve my problems. Now that I don’t have to go to work I can’t decide what the devil to do. The family are trying to get me to go to college but I want to go back to Italy and I want to go to Japan and I want to live a year in Paris and I want to do so damned many things now that I don’t know what the deuce I will do. Maybe we can go over and fight the Yugos. It was very simple while the war was on. Then there was only one thing for a man to do. Am having pretty good luck with my yarns. If you want I’ll send you a couple.
I surely wish I were starting to meet you to go to the Eagle Mere but I’ve promised Bill to go North now. If you don’t withdraw the invitation I’d like fully well to be there with you some time though. But why can’t you come up north first? The good fishing and weather begin about the middle of June. I’ll give you details about getting there later. Chicago is the only change you would have to make. I’d meet you at the station at the other end but when I think about that it makes me inarticulate and so I’d better quit.
Let me hear from you Chief.
This article was first published in August 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.