On Saturday, September 22, 1989, I bought a hardcover copy of Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream at the estate sale of Leslie Schulbach, Princeton ’27. I also purchased his mint condition six-record set of Mozart’s Violin Concertos as recorded by Deutsche Gramophone, probably performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. I passed on a paperback copy of The Snows of Kilimanjaro partly because it is a truly sad story and partly because it was the German translation, as unintelligible to me as Ulysses to your dog. Mr. Schulbach’s heirs were happy to sell these treasures for their asking price of a single Lincoln greenback. I would have paid a Jackson.
In 1961, when Hemingway ate his shotgun, Islands in the Stream was one of his many unpublished manuscripts. Papa wrote it over two decades, before, during, and after World War II. But to help the story hang together some of it was edited out by his final wife, Mary, and his long-time publisher at Scribner’s. I read it then over a weekend, and was amazed at his never before displayed imagination and humor, and as always gobsmacked by his ringside descriptions of bare knuckles fights, human strengths and failings, and of great fishes lost.
27 years ago I was already past full grown, yet I’ve learned much since then. Although we have carried this book in our Airstream for over three years now, I have not re-read it since 1989. A few days ago I set up a chair alongside Middle St. Vrain Creek and began to enjoy Islands a second time. High Colorado in summer looks and feels a lot like the Sun Valley, Idaho old Hem loved so well. Our creek sounds like the Salmon River where he often fly-fished. As I began to read I got a spooky feeling, as though the old man was nearby, like gnomes or leprechauns. I sensed he meant well, and his spirit helped me hear the story in the cadence in which he had wanted it read. I noticed emotions and nuance that I had missed long ago, and found his characterizations of protagonist Thomas Hudson’s three sons strangely moving while typically concise.
I’m about one third of the way through re-reading Islands in the Stream. I now know much about the philosophy of the painter Hudson, have tasted the gall of his ex-wives, and can all but see his talented but troubled pal Roger Davis. I’ve heard Papa tell the story of spear fishing at high tide and how the drunken cook who kept a Thompson sub-machine gun in his locker and with it saved a Hudson boy from a 1,000 pound hammerhead. He’s told me one of the best deep-sea fishing tales ever written, and set the stage for the war years. I have another 300 pages to savor.
Islands in the Stream: check it out.
Our daughter was in Denver this week. Stephanie the Webmaster and her guy Kevin paid us a visit. That’s a family first. We have met old friends on the road, and new friends we’ve met through their blogs and ours, but it was a real treat to see them way out here, in our Colorado home. We served small plates by the musical creek at a small table on a carpet of wildflowers. There were lox and cream cheese rollups, Swedish meatballs, melon salad, brie and bread, German chocolate muffins, and a couple bottles of champagne. Life is good.