I have been thinking about Ernest Hemingway recently, because I think I would probably enjoy reading his books. I don’t know that I will, but since, as I understand it, he often writes about his hunting adventures, there ought to be a good chance. I have even looked up a few of his books on Amazon, but I always get a bit confused and never buy anything. One of his most famous books is about an old guy in Cuba chasing a tuna fish (or some other sort of sport fish)—”The old man and the sea” I think it’s called—sounds a bit like Moby-Dick with better weather. And although I quite enjoyed Moby Dick when I read it, I’m not sure I’m into fishing enough to risk my first Hemingway on it. Another book I thought might be a promising place to start was called Hemingway on hunting (probably), but according to the reviews it’s a compilation of passages from a bunch of different books, padded out with commentary from people who knew him, or at least thought they did. I think I want my first Hemingway to be an authentic Hemingway, not a sort of literary clip show.
The first time Hemingway appears in my memory is one of the times I hung out with a guy called Mike. He was married to a friend of my wife at the time, and we got together during one of our trips to the US (we were living in Scotland at the time) to shoot some guns and catch up. It might even have been the first time I met mike, maybe. Mike is into duck hunting in a big way, and I think Hemingway was also, which might explain some of Mike’s interest in the man. Mike had a sort of study-slash-man-cave in the condo they lived in that I think he referred to as his Hemingway study, and that stuck in my mind. I think I only put the duck hunting thing together later, or maybe even just a few weeks ago…or possibly even just now. I have been meaning to try and get back in touch with mike since I moved to the states, partly because he was a pretty great guy to hang out with, and I like people like that, but also because he was seriously into duck hunting, and I think I’d like to try and get seriously into duck hunting as well. I even had his number in my phone for a while, but the idea of calling people out of the blue makes me want to hide under a table in a dark room, so it hasn’t happened and since I have now lost his number it probably never will. The reasoning behind my decision that Mike is seriously into duck hunting came from several observations: he owned a dog that was a trained retriever (no small thing), when shooting clay pigeons he made sure to try a few that approached from behind and over his head (a duck style manoeuvre I believe), but mostly I decided he was serious about ducks because he owned a 10 gauge shotgun just for shooting at duck. 10 gauge shotguns are serious shotguns, if someone buys a 10 gauge shotgun specially for something, they have to be serious. If I ever go after ducks it will be with a 12 gauge, and I might even use 3 inch shells, but I wouldn’t use a 10 gauge. This either makes me a wimp (entirely possible), or maybe just not that serious about ducks. That might change if I ever get a chance to go. The serious part, not the wimp part. That probably won’t change.
I was listening to an episode of the Meateater podcast recently. I don’t much go for podcasts if I’m honest, they mostly just irritate me unless they’re about science and I’m driving a long way. I think it’s something about the pacing and the sound effects or something. But I can listen to the Meateater podcast since it’s mostly just Steve Rinella talking: and if hunting can be called a religion, then he is it’s prophet, and I listen when he speaks. He wrote an especially good book on Buffalo, called “American Buffalo”, that made me very interested in Buffalo but not in a hunting way, because he wrote about that in his book and it seemed like something that was probably more fun to read about than do. I saw buffalo, or Bison I suppose, when Amanda and I camped out in the Badlands national park in South Dakota. We were driving down the unpaved road to the campsite and a Bison-alo was standing in the middle of the road. We stopped the car to wait for it to move, then a local came by in his pickup truck and just careered straight past us and the Bison-alo in a cloud of dust and gravel like it happened every day, which I suppose it did. It also convinced the Bison to leave the road so we could continue on our way, which was convenient. We got even closer to a Bison the next time we camped in the Badlands. We took some Scottish friends there for something to do, and when we woke in the morning there were two just outside the campsite. I observed from a distance of about 75 yards, standing behind our car. Others didn’t, but the Bison didn’t seem to care. Steve Rinella has this TV show about hunting and fishing called Meateater, and he does a podcast too where he invites friends and experts to sit and chat about hunting and conservation and things, and they are generally very interesting, especially when I’m at work and all I have to do all day is paint and sand things in a gallery with a lot of white walls and no windows. On this one episode the conversation wandered onto the subject of Hemingway because it was being recorded in the town of Ketchum, Idaho, which according to Rinella was where Hemingway lived when he killed himself. The shotgun he did it with was rumoured to have been cut up by a local man at the behest of the family, and then buried in a nearby field. There was some discussion as to the true identity of the gun he used: discovered in the end to be one of Hemingway’s favourites that he had used all over the world: and so it was probably a shame that it was destroyed. Better to fill the barrels with lead and put it under glass for posterity. There aren’t many guns come with a story like that, but perhaps an old gun with a story isn’t as good and a missing gun with a legend.
Hemingway was also something of a drinker I understand. That might be an understatement, but I don’t really know. All I know is people bring alcoholic tributes to his tomb in Ketchum (also learned from the Meateater podcast), which also happens to Jim Morrison in Paris I think, so calling him something of a drinker is probably a safe statement. In the abstract I think there is something kind of romantic in the idea of an alcoholic artist, which probably gets less romantic in direct proportion to your proximity to the artist in question. Being something of an artist myself I will admit to having the occasional bout of envy for those of my peers who can cultivate an honest drug dependency. It adds a certain legitimacy to the lifestyle of the struggling artist everyone likes to imagine when they meet you, and struggling with alcoholism is definitely more romantic than struggling with the gas bill. But since alcoholism and gas bills are not mutually exclusive life experiences, I think I would just as well stick to the gas bill and leave the alcoholism to someone else. I don’t know what was going on in Hemingway’s life to make him drink and ultimately end it, but it was there, and it did, and that’s that.
I heard something said once, it was probably a quote, that a person isn’t dead until the things he started on this earth come to an end. In another way of thinking, you’re alive as long as you’re remembered, and that makes a kind of sense to me. Each of our lives are lived from the perspective of the Plato’s cave that is our grey thinking sponge, and since memories are just another kind of shadow cast on the wall of the cave, a memory of someone is probably a lot more alive than it isn’t. Of course most people alive now don’t have any direct memory of Hemingway, but stories are almost as good, and legends are possibly even better since they are usually a lot more exciting. And since Hemingway, being a celebrated writer, was in a position to create his own legend, it ought to be a pretty good one. And of all the arguments I’ve heard in favour of reading Hemingway, that might be the best one yet.