The Deep Unknown: Tent Dwellers & The Road

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  • 22 Dec 2012 at 9:32 pm #2723


    I was watching something on TV the other night and someone was holding what they called a “creel bag” in which they said moss was placed to help keep fresh the trout they had caught. Not being a fisherman, I had never heard of such a thing but the combination of “moss” and trout naturally made me think of the ending of The Road where McCarthy famously writes of “brook trout in the streams in the mountains” and “They smelled of moss in your hand.” Looking into this creel bag/moss business a little bit led me to a book called The Tent Dwellers published in 1908 and written by Albert Bigelow Paine, interestingly Mark Twain’s biographer, about a trout-fising and canoeing expedition he took in the early 1900s in the pristine wilds of Nova Scotia.

    There are some interesting correspondences between Tent Dwellers and The Road, most notably for me the idea of the “deep glens” as McCarthy puts it and the “deep” and “deeper unknown” as Paine describes it. (There is also a scene from TD in which Paine takes a ritualistic baptismal bath of sorts in icy waters that recalls when the man and the boy bathe in the frigid waters early in TR. )

    Here are a few beautiful snippets of writing from Paine describing the magical place where the trout are plentiful and man has yet to spoil:

    “Then he unfolded to me a marvelous plan. It was a place in Nova Scotia — he had been there once before, only, this time he was going a different route, farther into the wilderness, the deep unknown, somewhere even the guides had never been. Perhaps stray logmen had been there, or the Indians, sportsmen never…Unquestionably, the waters swarmed with trout. A certain imaginative Indian, supposed to have penetrated the unknown, had declared that at one place were trout the size of one’s leg.” (Ch. 1)

    “It was beautiful going down Sand Brook. There was plenty of water and the day was perfect. There is nothing lovelier in the world than that little limpid stream with its pebbly riffles and its sunlit pools. Sometimes when I think of it now I am afraid that it is no longer there in that far still Arcady, or that it may vanish through some enchantment before I ever reach it again. Indeed as I am writing here today I am wondering if it is really there — hidden away in that quiet unvisited place, when no one is there to see it, and to hear it sing and whisper — if anything is anywhere, unless someone is there to see and hear. But these are deep waters.” (Ch. 27)

    A link to the book in its entirety:

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