Hemingway Fished Here
The first time I remember hearing the word ‘Seney’ was in the late 1990s or early 2000s when a friend and I were helping a buddy move back to college in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A road on our helpful journey we were to take was called the ‘Seney Stretch’; just hearing the name was yawn inducing. “The Most Boring Stretch of Road in Michigan” some have called it. Others would argue the “…in Michigan” could be replaced with “…in the U.S.” or “…in the World”. Another fact up possibly up for argument and somehow dodging of scientific fact is the length of said “Stretch”. After some digging, it appears that it could be 25 to 30 miles long. Travel it though and you’d be justified in thinking it could be 50 miles long or even 60. It’s a stretch of curveless highway between the logging-historical railroad towns of Seney, MI and Shingleton, MI. I’ve traveled the Seney Stretch numerous times and even with the updated 65 miles-per-hour speed limit, it doesn’t get much quicker.
The second time I heard the word ‘Seney’ was when the town was placed in heaps more stunning light as it was mentioned as an area of Michigan that Ernest Hemingway took a train to in 1919, fished for brook trout at and was inspired to write “Big Two-Hearted River”. In fact, the actual river Hemingway fished was the east branch of the Fox River; Hemingway used the name of nearby Two Hearted River in his title as a distraction to any potential fishing competition away from his favored river. Hemingway interests me greatly because of his described persona, his literary prowess and the fact that he spent the summers of his youth in an area only an hour north of where I grew up, and a 10-minute walk from where my dad once lived.
Look up the history of Seney and a town will be described as a logging town not for the weak or meek. A wonderfully researched article written by Jack Jobst can be found and read here. It was a hard-scrabble town with no doubt numerous characters and all the drama that late 1800s and early 1900s lumbering work and folk could bring. With a free morning during a recent family trip to Grand Marais, another logging town about an hour away, I decided to take a trip to Seney and absorb the history of this town I’d heard of but never explored.
Seney today is an extreme contrast to what it once was. There are a few structures that are standard to any small town: two gas stations, some lodgings, places to acquire food (and drink too of course, it’s Michigan), a post office and pockets of modest homes. The only people I saw were a group of off-road vehicle operators about to embark on an adventure and a person pulling in to the town watering hole, Andy’s Seney Bar, on a weekday morning.
Putting shoe bottoms to pavement is how I best connect with any place so after parking my vehicle and stepping around Seney, I started my walk. There was a 5 mile-per-hour breeze and a nice blanket of cloud cover with the occasional hole to allow for a sunbeam or two. Train tracks and a depot turned museum, in the distance, drew me toward them as I thought about Hemingway traveling the same tracks and stopping at the same depot. About 30 yards west of the depot was the Fox River, flowing nicely under the train bridge. After reading about all the logging and workers in the small town, my inspiration turned from Hemingway to the town’s history of logging and raucous off-shift tree workers. It’s almost unimaginable to think about the town in all it’s “wild west” glory while standing at a train crossing and watching a crow fly overhead. It feels good to stand there though, to feel the Seney air and to be thankful of not having to drive the Seney Stretch.