I long for outdoor articles written in the style of Earnest Hemingway and Zane Grey. The outdoor magazines were lucky to have such talented contributors. Their stories make me want to go on an adventure. I am a “Hemingway wannabe” and proud of it.
But the days of adventure stories are pretty much gone; the outdoor magazines for the most part have dropped that type of writing in favor of the “how-to articles”, which their marketing research tells them is preferred by their readers. As a sportsman I do enjoy and expect the “how-to” articles but they all read the same and I often can’t force myself to finish them.
When ZG wrote about his sporting adventures; his literary talents were not left out. One of my favorite stories by ZG is “Byme-by” Tarpon” Field & Stream, 1907. It is a story about fishing for tarpon in Tampico, Mexico with an Indian guide, Attalano who apparently speaks little English. All we hear the guide say is “Byme-by Tarpon”. ZG does not explain “byme-by”, of course this was 1907, and I understand that “byme-by” is a compound adverb for “soon” or “near”, and both meanings make sense in the story. For example, guide Attalano first uses the phrase as they troll through rolling tarpon:
When the first long, low swell of the changing tide rolled in, a stronger breeze raised little dimpling waves and chased along the water in dark, quick- moving frowns. All at once the tarpon began to show, to splash, to play, to roll. It was as though they had been awakened by the stir and murmur of the miniature breakers. Broad bars of silver flashed in the sunlight, green backs cleft the little billows, wide tails slapped lazily on the water. Every yard of river seemed to hold a rolling fish. This sport increased until the long stretch of water, which had been as calm as St. Regis Lake at twilight, resembled the quick current of a Canadian stream. It was a fascinating, wonderful sight. But it was also peculiarly exasperating, because when the fish roll in this sportive, lazy way they will not bite. For an hour I trolled through this whirlpool of flying spray and twisting tarpon, with many a salty drop on my face, hearing all around me the whipping crash of breaking water. “Byme-by-tarpon,” presently remarked Attalano, favoring me with the first specimen of his English.
Then as ZG and his guide take lunch near a sunken log, the tarpon find them, making Attalano drop his sandwich and ZG forget he had a rod:
Near by stood a tall crane watching us solemnly, and above in the tree- top a parrot vociferously proclaimed his knowledge of our presence. I was wondering if he objected to our invasion, at the same time taking a most welcome bite for lunch, when directly in front of me the water flew up as if propelled by some submarine power. Framed in a shower of spray I saw an immense tarpon, with mouth agape and fins stiff, close in pursuit of frantically leaping little fish.
The fact that Attalano dropped his sandwich attested to the large size and close proximity of the tarpon. He uttered a grunt of satisfaction and pushed out the boat. A school of feeding tarpon closed the mouth of the lagoon. Thousands of mullet had been cut off from their river haunts and were now leaping, flying, darting in wild haste to elude the great white monsters. In the foamy swirls I saw streaks of blood.
“Byme-by-tarpon!” called Attalano, warningly.
Shrewd guide! I had forgotten that I held a rod.
ZG’s descriptions of his fight with the tarpon are so vivid, they pull me into the story:
Five times he sprang toward the blue sky, and as many he plunged down with a thunderous crash. The reel screamed. The line sang. The rod, which I had thought stiff as a tree, bent like a willow wand. The silver king came up far astern and sheered to the right in a long, wide curve, leaving behind a white wake. Then he sounded, while I watched the line with troubled eyes. But not long did he sulk. He began a series of magnificent tactics new in my experience. He stood on his tail, then on his head; he sailed like a bird; he shook himself so violently as to make a convulsive, shuffling sound; he dove, to come up covered with mud, marring his bright sides; he closed his huge gills with a slap and, most remarkable of all, he rose in the shape of a crescent, to straighten out with such marvelous power that he seemed to actually crack like a whip.
The passage above is so well written and descriptive, it truly gives me a rush.
But in the end ZG loses the tarpon just as Attalano reaches for the leader. ZG’s literary skills come into play as he asks a haunting question:
One moment he lay there, glowing like mother-of-pearl, a rare fish, fresh from the sea. Then, as Attalano warily reached for the leader, he gave a gasp, a flop that deluged us with muddy water, and a lunge that spelled freedom.
I watched him swim slowly away with my bright leader dragging beside him. Is it not the loss of things which makes life bitter? What we have gained is ours; what is lost is gone, whether fish, or use, or love, or name, or fame.
I tried to put on a cheerful aspect for my guide. But it was too soon. Attalano, wise old fellow, understood my case. A smile, warm and living, flashed across his dark face as he spoke:
Which defined his optimism and revived the failing spark within my breast. It was, too, in the nature of a prophecy.
It is in the words above that the use of the phrase “Byme-by Tarpon” is the clearest. It is a prophecy.
My son Chris was in the Bahamas getting married a couple of weeks ago. One night he noticed there were fish under the lights on a pier behind his room. Grabbing a flyrod he went to find out what they were.