Erin Swan is a writer of fiction and nonfiction whose work has been published in Asia Literary Review, The Quarterlife Quarterly, and The Cuírt Journal, among others. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from New School University and an MA in English Education from Columbia University. She has worked in publishing, taught English in South and Southeast Asia, and is currently teaching literature and writing in a New York City public high school.
A Good Camp
Needless to say, I did not go fishing after that first aborted attempt. The hook frightened me. I had seen what it could do. Later, after my father coughed up his life that Sunday morning, I equated that fishhook with his death, as if it were a type of foreshadowing, a prediction of the more lasting pain that awaited, lurking around a bend in the road, just out of sight.
Years passed like that. This past summer, my husband Peter and I decided to rent a cabin upstate in the Catskills, in Downsville, New York, an area renowned for its fishing. Peter liked to fish, had also learned from his father – though perhaps more successfully – and I decided I was ready to try it again. So I said okay. Sure. I’ll try to fish, too.
We began our planning early. Though we wouldn’t go until late August, I reserved the cabin in June, the car in early July. Peter accumulated supplies: a pole, hooks, a tackle box. Bug spray and sunscreen. A bucket for the fish, once caught. Packets of plastic worms and a handful of sinkers. And though I eyed the fishhooks with trepidation, I was ready to do it, to put it behind me, to try my hand, once again, at this thing passed down, father to son, to daughter, to me.
Once we had all our supplies, Peter and I found ourselves talking about stories. Not just any stories. One story. Hemingway’s penultimate fishing tale, “Big Two-Hearted River,” which both of us remembered fondly. What we recalled most clearly were the sensory details: Nick Adams making his camp, the canvas of his tent, the buckwheat cakes he fried over the fire, the chill of the water into which he stepped to catch his trout. It seemed clean to us, pure. The setting up of camp, the building of a fire. The satisfaction of simple things, like the sight of mist rising off a river or the smell of butter when it first hits the frying pan. A man’s solitary quest for redemption after the horrors of war.This story was one of the reasons I was ready to attempt fishing again, for this clarity, this purity.