Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Nature Walk with Patrick Hemingway

The day was raining but I didn't wear a raincoat. I figured the second son of Ernest Hemingway might not care about the weather and so I got very wet. Patrick wore a raincoat. The group was taking a river walk along the Des Plains River outside of Oak Park. The Des Plaines river had seen better days, but there was some thinking that Patrick would enjoy this and so I went along with out group that included a couple of journalists, park rangers, a few scholars, and myself.

Patrick was a small man with a big smile in a yellow slicker. Not the type of man you would expect who had run a Safari company in Africa and been on many many big game hunts. Some of the hunts were with his father of course. But this was a different time and we were walking through foliage with the rain pattering on the leaves as the Forest Service Rangers explained different plants and restoration plans. Several times Patrick stopped them to ask questions, but then we just plunged on down toward the river. The weather had given us a break and it wasn't cold for May in Chicago.

The man who walked ahead of me was the second son of Ernest Hemingway, born to Pauline Pfeiffer and led a life befitting the son of  Ernest. After running his safari company he worked for the United Nations for a while, had a farm in Africa where he lived for twenty five years. After his father died, he edited True At First Light and oversaw publication of his father's book and republished A Moveable Feast with some sections restored that had been omitted when Mary Hemingway edited the manuscript. He taught wildlife conservation in Tanzania and then returned to Idaho where he oversaw the literary estate of his father.

I knew none of this as I followed the small man down to the river. We reached the river and the smell of muck and decay cast a pall on our small party. The Des Plaines was mud brown and corrugated with rain drops. Trash had collected in the low parts along with logs and a ten gallon drum. The rangers talked about the cleanup effort that was underway and of course one could not help think back to a young Ernest Hemingway fishing the Des Plains in a time when the river had seen better days. But now of course there was only our small group in a city forest preserve down by a dirty river.

The rain turned heavy on the trees around us, drizzling down. One of the scholars held an umbrella over Patrick while the rangers rambled on. Patrick coughed several times and someone said we should head back.  The unsaid thought of course was that no one wanted the son of Ernest Hemingway to get sick on their watch. But he did me one favor and asked how the writing was in the attic and motioned to the journalist with his camera. It is there I had my picture taken with Patrick, a young writer who had tagged along to a much bigger life, in a much bigger time.
Rocket Man will be out in January

Books by William Hazelgrove