The train went on up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber. Nick sat down on the bundle of canvas and bedding the baggage man had pitched out of the door of the baggage car. There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country. The thirteen saloons that had lined the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground.
Ernest Hemingway, "Big Two-Hearted River," 1925.
As documented by Jack Jobst in Michigan Historical Magazine, in 1919 Ernest Hemingway and a couple of friends journeyed to Seney, a small town on the eastern half of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They came to camp, fish, and enjoy the earthier delights of bawdy Seney, a lumberjack town that had been home to many bars and brothels. But the most valuable trees of the Seney countryside had been cut down by then--when those trees were gone, so was the fun.
Terrain cleared of trees is prone to fire: Brush piles up, dries out, and lightning, a cigarette butt, or just plain stupidity is all it takes to ignite a major fire. When Hemingway and his chums arrived, the area surrounding Seney, and the town itself, had been scorched by fire.
Hemingway (and his alter ego in "Big Two-Hearted River," Nick Adams) served as an ambulance driver in the Italian army in World War I. "Both" were wounded. In the story Seney, scarred by fire, represents Europe, ravaged by war.
Just south of the town is the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. A Civilian Conservation Corps project, it includes much of what had been the Great Manistique Swamp, which had been drained by some misguided visionaries who thought it could be turned into farmland.
"Big Two-Hearted River" was a popular assigned story when I was in high school in the late 1970s. The fictional Adams clearly is undergoing what is now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. The '60s generation had established a foothold in the schools by then, many of these teachers had of course opposed the Vietnam War; in fact, some men chose teaching as their profession to avoid being drafted into the military. Yes, there was subtle indoctrination going on. But I enjoyed the story, I was patricularly moved by Hemingway's description of Seney's burnt grasshopppers--of course they symbolized the wounded men of the Great War.
As you can see in pictures, Seney, like Hemingway/Adams, recovered.
Click on any image to make it larger.
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