restricted access 6. Hemingway and Cultural Geography: The Landscape of Logging in “The End of Something”
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6 Hemingway and Cultural Geography The Landscape of Logging in “The End of Something” Laura Gruber Godfrey • I visited Ernest Hemingway’s house outside Ketchum, Idaho, in the fall of 2004. The late-September weather was golden, crisp, perfect—the skies an intense western blue, long ribbons of quaking aspen and cottonwood trees lining the graceful curves of the Big Wood River. On that late-afternoon visit, I watched as a herd of elk grazed quietly in a meadow below Hemingway’s yard next to the river, and to the north the Boulder/White Cloud Mountains glowed brown and violet in the sun. The house itself, now under the care of the Nature Conservancy, has undergone few changes, and so when I peeked through the kitchen window, I knew that the faded, worn curtains I could see were probably chosen by Mary, Hemingway’s fourth wife, and that the kitchen table was one at which he often sat. In Kenneth Lynn’s massive biography, there is a picture of Hemingway in the Ketchum house in the winter of 1959 eating dinner with his cat at the kitchen counter. I glimpsed that same counter through the window. And there I saw the large green door on the south side of the house that marks the entrance to the foyer, where Hemingway used one of his double-barreled 12-gauge shotguns to take his own life on 2 July 1961. It struck me that afternoon that although Hemingway and his wife had long been absent, every detail of the place sang with the history of his life. To the outside observer the house might appear as an increasingly shabby structure on a spectacular piece of property—the slightly sagging deck with its chipped green paint, the forlorn white bench sitting outside the basement door, and 69 Cirino & Ott.indb 69 3/23/10 9:34:37 AM 70 laura gruber godfrey the splintered, peeling wood on the windowsills make an odd juxtaposition to the stunningly beautiful landscape (and the land itself is surrounded by houses that are, needless to say, more reflective of current Ketchum property values). But to anyone familiar with Hemingway’s life story, each tiny detail on the property carries enormous weight and significance. I found myself taking a ridiculous number of pictures of any image I could catch—a worn patch of grass, a refrigerator visible through a window, a cloud shadow on the Boulder Mountains—bringing these images, like prizes, back to my baffled yet amused American literature students, who had just begun reading In Our Time. Geography and place lie at the heart of Hemingway’s art, as they did in his life; perhaps this fact explains the powerful urge Hemingway scholars and fans have to see the places where he situated and composed that art. Critical discussion of Hemingway’s sense of place is no new enterprise, and what we may call “place-centered” criticism of his work continues to be an active field of discussion. As an author, Hemingway presents again and again his disciplined and exacting aesthetic for landscapes. Susan Beegel reads Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and their “ecological comprehension” of the surrounding landscapes (102), and Terry Tempest Williams calls Hemingway “a powerful mentor, in terms of what it means to create a landscape impressionistically on the page, to make it come alive, pulse, breathe” (11). As these authors point out, many of Hemingway’s geographies do more for his narratives than simply elevate or give depth to the stories; these landscapes are also invested with both aesthetic and cultural meaning. Perhaps one passage that best demonstrates this awareness of the cultural geographies of places comes in the middle of Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, where he describes the train of thoughts that come to him while fishing in the Gulf Stream: . . . when, on the sea, you are alone with it and know that this Gulf Stream you are living with, knowing, learning about, and loving, has moved, as it moves, since before man, and that it has gone by the shoreline of that long, beautiful, unhappy island since before Columbus sighted it and that the things you find out about it, and those that have always lived in it are permanent and of value because that stream will flow, as it has flowed, aftertheIndians,aftertheSpaniards,aftertheBritish,aftertheAmericans and after all the Cubans and all the systems of governments, the richness, the poverty, the martyrdom, the sacrifice and the venality and the...


Subject Headings

  • Memory in literature.
  • Hemingway, Ernest, -- 1899-1961 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Geography in literature.
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