"Nick ... made his way up the creek... At the pebbly shallow stretch he caught two small trout. they were beautiful fish, too, firm and hard and he gutted the ... fish and tossed the guts into the stream, then washed the trout carefully in the cold water and then wrapped them in a small faded sugar sack from his pocket. ...Hemingway's story, set in northern Michigan before the First World War, describes the boy Nick Adams fishing for trout to make supper over a campfire for himself and his sister. Idyllic. I chose The Nick Adams Stories as nice summer reading after our recent trip to Traverse City, in country somewhat like the area where Hemingway's family summered around 100 years ago. It's still beautiful, mainly rural and full of beautiful little streams.
"He had his fire made and the skillet resting on it and he was laying strips of bacon in the skillet. ... Nick was cooking the trout now. the bacon was curled brown on a fresh-cut chip of wood from the piece of fallen timber they were using for the fire and they both smelled the trout cooking in the bacon fat. Nick basted them and then turned them and basted them again." ("The Last Good Country," Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories, p. 111-116)
"With wild fish we have chosen, time after time, to ignore the fundamental limits the laws of nature place on ecosystems and have consistently removed more fish than can be replaced by natural processes. ... We eat more fish every year, ... pausing only (and only briefly) when evidence surfaces of the risk of industrial contaminants in our seafood supply. ... And in telling the story of four fish, for which the collision of wildness and domestication is particularly relevant, I shall attempt to separate human wants from global needs and propose the terms for an equitable and long-lasting peace between man and fish." (Paul Greenberg, Four Fish, p. 13-14)
Nick Adams, one of Hemingway's alter-egos, was aware of the precious quality of the woods where he fished -- most famously in the story "Big Two-Hearted River." In this story, Nick returns to Michigan escaping a lot of bad experiences that are mostly told through allusions. Fishing allows him to find a kind of happiness, mainly implied by Hemingway's spare prose.
On the whole in the modern world, there might be a few trout in Michigan's streams, but fish more generally are in trouble. The four fish of Greenberg's title are salmon, tuna, seabass, and cod, all ocean species that have provided large supplies of food in the past. All are at risk, as he explains in his combination of natural history and biotechnology history. Fish farms are productive, but full of problems. Wild fish are so scarce that one can only have illusions about sustainable fisheries for them. I'm not sure why I was inspired to read such a depressing book, but the reviews were really intriguing.
I couldn't help making the connection between Hemingway's idyll and Greenberg's modern dilemma of how we are depleting and polluting the oceans. (And he wrote prior to the disaster in the Gulf). Greenberg calls fish "the last wild food," but describes the challenges of fish farming, and the increasingly reduced supplies of any wild fish. I like this connection and the contrast between the two books I've been reading.