Nick sat down against the charred stump and smoked a cigarette. His pack balanced on the top of the stump harness holding ready, a hollow molded in it from his back. Nick sat smoking, looking out over the country. He did not need to get his map out. He knew where he was from the position of the river.
“Big Two-Hearted River”
I’ve spent my last four Memorial Day weekends with friends on the Pere Marquette River. Well, not so much as on it as nearby and air-conditioned: close enough to read In Our Time, and somehow, undeservedly, find kinship between Nick Adams’ northern Michigan soul-wandering and my bug-sprayed hikes-short-enough-to-be-back-in-time-to-hit-the-shuffleboard-courts. For all his accolades as a battened-down realist, Hemingway could stand to mention the mosquitos more often.
The Pere Marquette runs east-west, from the middle of the Manistee National Forest, near Baldwin, Michigan, to Pere Marquette Lake, which feeds into Lake Michigan. It’s named—as are a handful of counties, towns, and state lands in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois—after Father Jacques Marquette, a seventeenth-century Jesuit missionary and explorer of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. He’s thought to have died, at thirty-seven, of dysentery near the outlet of his now-namesake river (whether or not this is all widely known, I’ve only ever heard it pronounced as “pier”—the French would have it sounding something like “pear.”)
I’m more familiar with the river, though, as the place where my grandmother grew up and where my great-grandfather was a river guide. On these trips every year, in our cabin—and I assume in all the cabins—the campground staff places a copy of the January 1995 “Pere Marquette” issue of River Journal, a fly-fishing magazine, in which he’s pictured and quoted as saying something curmudgeonly about how the river will never be the same again. Accusations of my own river-savvy—as a descendant of this Significant Person (he’s in print, after all)—come, inevitably, as soon as someone finds the article each year. “No, I don’t know what kind of fish that is.” “Yes, I’ll steer the canoe.”
David Greendonner (’12) is an MFA candidate at Western Michigan University where he teaches writing and is the managing editor of the literary magazine Third Coast.