"R is for redneck."
–Ray Wylie Hubbard

He rarely bothered about intruders anymore, there were so many of them these days. But what he saw that hot July afternoon made him pause. He peered cautiously through the thick cover of wild rose, waiting for a clearer view.

Two slender figures were approaching, each with a heavy canvas bundle–half her size and weight–strapped to her back. They were young, beautiful. The kind you expect to find shopping Fifth Avenue, not out here, alone, fishing in Grizzly Canyon.

An unworthy prejudice, for the truth of the matter is this: Both Marianne and Peggy were accomplished flyfishers. Given a relatively windless day either of them could present a number 16 mayfly to the desired spot without getting hung up too often. And they could float that mayfly–mostly without drag–over the hiding places where cutthroat, rainbows, or browns are known to reside.

It was their husbands who had taught them how to fish. But Steve and Perry never gave their wives full credit for all they had accomplished. A doctor, a lawyer, each the owner of at least a half-dozen different rods whose different uses they understood perfectly, Steve and Perry fished on an altogether different level than Marianne and Peggy. They were masters of the art, and they knew it. And even though they never meant any harm, sometimes they could not refrain from cracking a joke or two when Marianne or Peggy came back to the car bragging about the day’s results or cursing a bit of bad luck. It was part of Steve and Perry’s nature to make jokes.

One night Marianne and Peggy realized they were tired of these jokes, and together they decided to lay down the law. Unequivocally, they informed Steve and Perry that the annual husbands’ fishing retreat had been canceled, and this year the wives were going to take their place.

Steve and Perry bitched and complained. They tried to argue. They spoke of the long hours they worked, the dollars they earned… But Marianne and Peggy were adamant. "What we do is just as important," they informed their spouses.

"But what if there are problems," wondered Perry. "What if you don’t catch fish?"

"We’ll catch ’em," said Peggy. "You won’t have to worry any more about us than you would about yourselves."

But still the men were not convinced, and that made Marianne lose her temper. "What’s the name of those stupid stories you guys like so much, with that macho guy who’s your hero–you know, the sarcastic one? He’s ultra-famous and I can’t believe I can’t remember his name!" she sputtered. "Well, I say that Peggy and I can do anything he ever did, no problem."

Did she really know what she was saying? Her syllables filled the air like a cloud pregnant with destiny. And though it went against their better judgment, Steve and Perry couldn’t possibly back away from such a direct challenge.

The idea was for Marianne and Peggy to follow Nick Adams’ program as laid out in the story called "Big Two-Hearted River, Part I + Part II." But right away Steve and Perry suggested some modifications.

In the first place they could see no point in sending Marianne and Peggy all the way to northern Michigan to fish. Both couples lived in the beautiful, prosperous town of Moonbranch, Montana, not that far from Cooke City, where Papa himself had lived–and fished–for a time.

"Every great trout stream is a `big two-hearted river,’" they submitted, and Marianne and Peggy could only agree it would be easier, cheaper, and every bit as good fishing to plan their trip for one of the rivers that flows out of Yellowstone Park.

Then there was the problem of the packs. Steve and Perry pointed out that Nick Adams carried a lot of gear, and that Marianne and Peggy would each have to carry the exact same items "if they intended to do this properly."

"Some of it we already own," said Steve. "Some of it we’ll have to buy," added Perry. "But don’t worry. We’ll take care of everything!"

And sure enough, by the very next day, all of the gear was arranged in two identical piles–one for Marianne, one for Peggy–on the floor of Perry and Peggy’s garage. What follows is an accurate list of the contents of each pile:

One old-fashioned hardwood pack harness with canvas pack.
One leather rod case with fly rod.
One reel loaded with lead-weighted fly line.
One aluminum leader box.
One fly book filled with flies and a hook book filled with hooks.
One net.
One knife.
One empty glass bottle and an empty flour sack.
One map.
One ax.
Three heavy wool blankets.
One canvas tent.
A roll of cheesecloth mosquito netting.
A paper sack containing one pound of large nails.
One ten-inch cast-iron frying pan.
A wire grill.
A tin plate.
A folding canvas bucket.
A coffee pot.
A tin cup.
Oiled paper.
Seven one-pound cans of pork and beans.
Seven one-pound cans of spaghetti.
A bottle of ketchup.
Seven loaves of bread.
Seven cans of apricots.
Five pounds each of coffee, flour, sugar, and Crisco (canned).
A jar of apple butter.
Seven cans of condensed milk.
A carton of cigarettes and two gross of boxed waterproof matches.
Seven large onions.
And, of course, a can opener.

Steve and Perry saw these great masses and were satisfied. The piles must have weighed at least a hundred pounds each. But Marianne and Perry were not about to fall for it. "We don’t need two tents, first of all…"

And the husbands agreed that two tents would not be really necessary. And they might as well leave behind the extra ax, sack of nails, rope, frying pan, wire grill, canvas bucket, coffee pot, can opener, and map. Even so, that left about 75 pounds for each woman to carry, not including the weight of any clothing she might care to bring along for the week’s outing.

"Why all these canned goods?" Marianne complained.

"Nick Adams liked to open cans. It says so right here on page 217," Steve explained, referring to a well-thumbed paperback copy of the master’s "Short Stories" (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1938/1966). "Every night for dinner you have to mix one can of pork-and-beans and one can of spaghetti, and eat that, piping hot, with a lot of ketchup poured on top; and you have to mop the plate shiny with a piece of bread, not wasting a drop of the delicious sauce…"

"That’s ridiculous," cried Peggy, snatching the book away from Steve. She scanned it rapidly, moving her lips as she read. Finally she threw it down, hard, in Perry’s lap.

"It only says he ate that the first night. It doesn’t say a thing about the rest of the time. Obviously he ate trout, and so will we…"

Thus it was agreed that six cans of spaghetti and pork-and-beans could be omitted, lightening each load by twelve pounds. But it was also deemed necessary that they have apricots and coffee each night for dessert; flapjacks with apple butter and coffee each morning for breakfast; and cold flapjacks and onion sandwiches dipped in river water every day for lunch–so that none of the other food items could be omitted.

Peggy wanted to know what the glass bottle and the flour sack were for, and Perry told her that the former was to hold live grasshoppers; the latter was a creel.

"Grasshoppers? Live bait? Your hero was a bait fisherman? Then why the fly rod? Why carry flies?"

"It’s in the book," said Steve, adding his copy of the short stories to Marianne’s load. "Take the book with you and study it. Let it be your Bible. Anything it says in the book that’s the way you’ve got to do it and no questions."

"But why all the matches?" Peggy moaned. "I don’t even smoke, and what am I supposed to do with two gross of boxed matches?"

"You’ll have to learn to smoke, or at least pretend to," said Perry. "And as for the matches, well, you notice there’s no mosquito repellent here: Nick Adams did not use mosquito repellent. When a mosquito was bugging him, he lit a match and burned it."

"Oh God, Perry, you’re kidding!" the wives chorused.

But the only reply from their husbands was a phlegmatic, "Read the book."

So they read the book. They studied it. Memorized it. And they trained. Practiced carrying their packs around the park in Moonbranch.

Of course it helped that Perry and Steve finally agreed to let them substitute certain items of modern camping gear, so that the total weight each would carry was now only about sixty pounds–still it was a substantial load.

"O Jesus these packs are heavy," Peggy moaned, even though they were already in sight of the mouth of Grizzly Canyon.

Marianne reminded her, "They’re supposed to be heavy. Nick Adams thought his was heavy, didn’t he?"

"Yes, but it’s such a hot day…"

"I know."

"And the altitude here is so much higher than in Michigan."

"I know. And we didn’t practice any of this up-and-down terrain. It takes a lot out of you. Still, we’re almost there. Just another mile or two…"

They pushed on, and, unbelievably, they made it. They came to their camping place before sunset and made camp and saw that it was good. They ate the pork-and-beans and spaghetti mixed with ketchup and were so tired and hungry they barely minded the taste. They knew the difficult part was over; their packs would be so much lighter on the way out.

They fell into bed without washing, ready to sleep the sleep of the just. But around midnight Peggy awoke from a deep slumber, startled by the sound of a low growling coming from the hillside behind them. She grabbed Marianne and hugged her in fear. "Is it a bear?" she whispered.

Marianne sat up, rubbed her eyes, then lay back down again. "Go to sleep," she advised Peggy.

"How do you know there’s no bear out there?"

"Well, if you don’t want to take my word for it, why don’t you go out there and ask?"

"Marianne, this is serious. I’m scared."

"Don’t be. Really. There’s nothing to worry about."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because," Marianne stated finally, "there’s nothing about it in the book. No bears. No tragedy. No deaths. Nick Adams never got eaten by a grizzly and we won’t either."

Peggy tuned her hearing to try to penetrate the darkness, the swirl of the river, the vastness of the forest, but there was nothing out there. Marianne was right. The book was right. After about a half-hour she gave up and went to sleep.

They slept late, breakfasted leisurely, and still had time to get in a beautiful day’s fishing. They caught fish left and right. The high-mountain trout had no defense against the baited grasshopper. They meant to keep only two each day–just like Nick Adams had–but some of the trout swallowed the hooks entirely, so Peggy ended up killing three fish and Marianne four.

But everything else went just the way it was supposed to. They ate their flapjacks for lunch; dipped onion sandwiches in river water; scattered crumbs, matches; smoked cigarettes; drank out of their hats. "Good fishin’, eh Nick?" said Marianne.

"Sure is Hem, you bet," replied Peggy. They had taken to calling each other by these affectionate nicknames, as well as "Papa" and "Tatie," all of which might be used interchangeably.

"One thing bothers me, though. In the book, Nick Adams never made a cast without getting a strike. He didn’t land every fish he hooked, but he never cast fruitlessly. I’ve done well today, but not that well. How about you?"

"No, I haven’t done that well, Hem. Nobody ever does that well, not even Steve or Perry. Even on their best days, they don’t come close…"

"But they fish artificials. That’s why they have to wait for strikes. Wonder how they’d do with live hoppers?"

"They wouldn’t even try. They wouldn’t dream of it. They’d break their rods first. It would emasculate them totally."

"Why do you think they like all this Nick Adams stuff so much then? I mean, since he was a bait fisherman, after all."

"I’ve been trying to figure that out myself. Maybe because he wrote so long ago… I guess there were more fish then, so it didn’t matter as much. I don’t know, I may switch to using an artificial hopper tomorrow."

"Yeah, I wouldn’t mind either, Tatie, but maybe we better not…"

"Why not? It’s harder, isn’t it? And how would Steve or Perry ever know?"

"I don’t know, Hem. I just think we better not. Let’s keep on doing everything by the book. Then we won’t have to worry."

And Marianne agreed.

That night they feasted on trout, but while they ate, they could not refrain from commenting on what they perceived as a few more of the book’s inadequacies.

"I can’t believe what a fool Nick Adams was if he didn’t know that putting red hot food in his mouth would burn his tongue. At his age. And then he says it’s because he has a sensitive tongue…"

"I know. Isn’t that ridiculous? And then he bothers to say that it feels good when you don’t stick a fishhook into your finger. " Peggy laughed out loud. "Really. I mean, he didn’t even mention how good it feels when you don’t stick a fishhook in your eye. I’m willing to bet that feels even better than not sticking it in your finger."

"And then when he says that it was dark outside, but lighter inside the tent. How stupid. You might say that it was cold outside yet warmer in the tent… But not lighter."

"Or when he says he has a right to eat that awful canned food if he’s willing to carry it. But it’s not a question of right. If he hadn’t carried it, it wouldn’t be there, so he wouldn’t be able to eat it whether he had a right to or not."

"Oh well spoken, Papa," Marianne scoffed. "Spoken like the wife of a lawyer. The point is, I think, that he could have carried in food that weighed just as much, but tasted much better. Like a steak for instance. A two-pound steak instead of a pound of canned spaghetti and one of pork-and-beans. He just had bad taste. Abysmal taste. Like what he says about apricots, that canned ones taste better than fresh apricots."

"Maybe he was eating a different brand than we are," Peggy suggested. "Maybe canned apricots were better fifty years ago…?"

"He was a slob!" cried Marianne. "He didn’t know anything about anything. But one thing I know for sure is these canned apricots are terrible!"

And with that she heaved her half-eaten can into the woods.

"Ohhhhh rats," Peggy moaned.

"What the matter?" snapped Marianne, still in a snit about the apricots.


"Poor baby," Marianne responded sympathetically.

"Never mind, it’s no big deal." Peggy stepped around behind a large boulder and squatted down. "You know what I think?" she called out to Marianne. "I think you were right not to worry about that noise last night. That was no bear. That was Perry and Steve trying to scare us."

"You think so?"

"Sure." Peggy washed her hands with some water from the canvas bucket. "Perry probably thinks I’d be worried about bears. The important thing is if they’re coming to play a practical joke that we be ready for them."

"Yes, they’ll expect to burst in and find us cowering in terror, but instead we’ll be waiting for them… I know, we can pretend we ran into some cute guys in the woods and we’re making love!"

"Great idea!!! That’ll show them!!!"

The light was fading quickly. Marianne and Peggy left the dinner dishes for the morning, undressed quickly and washed themselves in a quiet river pool. They quickly pulled on cotton t-shirts, which clung to their damp skin. The cool night air caused them to hurry. It was darker in the tent than it was outside. Peggy was the first to regain her breath. "I’m so excited," she said. "I sure hope they come soon…"

"Me too," Marianne agreed. "Shhhh, what was that?"

The growling had begun again, just like the night before, but closer this time, or in any case, louder. "RRRrrrrrrr. Rrrrrrr. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR."

"They’re here!" Peggy whispered excitedly, grabbing Marianne by the arm. "What did I tell you?"

"Just so, Tatie. I’m excited too. But don’t you think they’re overdoing it with the growling? That doesn’t sound anything like a bear…"

"No, it doesn’t," Peggy giggled. "But what do we do now? I’m sure I haven’t got a clue how to go about this."

"It’s easy. Just use your hand or your arm and pretend you’re kissing somebody. And we’ve got to say things, you know like we’re making love, and maybe throw in an incoherent sound or two."

A few moments passed before Peggy could think of anything to say. Then she began, somewhat nervously at first, as she tried to imitate a man’s voice. "Your breasts… I always wondered what they would feel like."

"And what do they feel like?" teased Marianne.

"They’re lovely. Firm. Soft. Like ripe fruit."

"Like fresh apricots?"

"Better than fresh apricots."

They giggled hysterically, and pressed their hands to their mouths as though their lives depended on it, trying to stifle the gales of laughter that might have given them away.

Marianne was the first to regain control. "Mmmmmm," she moaned. "Yours are lovely too…"

"Gggrrrrrr. RRRRRRRRRRRR."

"Shhhh. Listen. They’re getting closer."

"I can’t wait. Mmmmm."

"MMmmmmmmm. Neither can I. Oh, so much better than our husbands."

"Yes. Listen. Shhhh. I think they’re here. I hear them. Their footsteps… They’re right outside the tent."

"I can hardly wait…"

"Mmmmm. I know–but, quick! tell me," Marianne demanded, "how do I look…?"

Peggy shot a quick appraising glance in her friend’s direction and sighed: "Edible."