When Ike cooked with foil in the Dartmouth Grant
Edward Weeks, editor emeritus of The Atlantic Monthly, was editor of the magazine when the events in the following essay occurred. AT the Dartmouth Commencement in June 1950, two editors were among those awarded honorary degrees, Harold Ross of The New Yorker and myself. The exercises were conducted in the open and Ross and I were seated beside each other on the dais. He studied the program. ``It says here,'' he remarked, ``that I'm to be a Doctor of Humane Letters but you're just an ordinary `Litt.D.' Means I'm the kinder man.'' I protested; but at that instant Ross's name was called; he jammed the mortarboard on his thick black hair and stood up for the acclaim.
During the reception that followed, president John Dickey invited me to join him later in the month to fish for the native trout in the Dartmouth Grant. I accepted eagerly for an expedition I was to relish year after year.
During the Jefferson administration, when Dartmouth was founded, the State of New Hampshire endowed Dartmouth with a forest of 27,000 acres, known as ``the Grant,'' where prudent cutting has preserved many hardwoods, while yielding a net income of $20,000 a year. The Grant begins just below the Canadian border and encompasses 48 square miles of wilderness watered by the two branches of the Diamond River, the Swift Diamond to the west and the Dead Diamond to the north. The best and deepest trout pools are in the Dead and best fished from a canoe.
We left Hanover early on a Thursday morning in the Dickeys' beach wagon. A long green canoe was strapped to the roof, and packed with the fishing gear were emergency rations just in case a heavy rain discolored the water and put the trout down. Our caterer, Mrs. Dickey, selected steaks, homemade bread, a cherry pie, and a tin of her chocolate cookies. Even if we caught our limit of trout, those extras would come in handy.
We drove north for five hours with only a single stop to get our licenses. With us was Dr. Jay Gile, who in boyhood had accompanied his doctor father on distant calls to these upland farms, and he related the personal history of the countryside and explained the source of the wealth which originally built such distinctive homes -- lumber first, he said, then long-staple wool, and always canny economy.
We passed the salmon pool on the Ammonoosuc and then the Oxbow on the upper Connecticut, water vistas that quickened our anticipation. Forest to one side, water on the other, we sped through the Thirteen Mile Woods and soon thereafter turned off to enter the gate of the Grant. John introduced us to the guardian, who reported that the river was high and no record fish had yet been reported. The log gate was lowered behind us and in low gear we climbed to the crest of a very deep canyon, with the white water of the Swift and the Dead Diamond, now a united stream, far below. We entered the clearing of the Forest Management Center and Sam, the Norwegian fire warden, in his comical red hat, came running to greet the president. ``John, I vant to tell you. . . .''
The Dead Diamond is slow and meandering: In its winding course it has created innumerable sandy crescents with deep pools at each end. The sand bears the footprints of wildlife and is not defiled by beer cans, a bedspring, or the chassis of an abandoned Ford, the normal decoration of so many American streams.
We fish in pairs, and for that first evening John chooses me. We drive up to the headwaters, launch the canoe to carry us over the deep water, and then begin wading and casting, shoving the canoe into the bushes before we approach a promising pool and taking turns at the head and the tail of each pool. The trout are rising, wary and strong. We keep only those over 11 inches.
John loves to wade, and from his periscopic height he spots where the fish lie. His plan is for me to cast the first pool and the next three; he will bypass ``my water'' in the canoe and then shove it ashore and begin on his stretch, wading along. When I reach the canoe, I'm to overtake him and then I go in the lead. This leapfrog gives each of us the bliss of fishing untouched water, alone. It is a private experience in which one talks to oneself, cursing the blunders, exclaiming when a trout has struck.
The most surprising of my delightful visits to the Grant occurred in June 1955. Our party consisted of John, Sidney Hayward, secretary of Dartmouth, and me. That spring President Eisenhower had been speaking in New England and staying with Sinclair Weeks, his secretary of commerce, in Lancaster, N.H. Each state had presented Ike with a token of esteem: Vermont gave him a fishing license, New Hampshire a fly rod; and Maine invited him to fish for a weekend at the once-famous Parmachenee Club on Caribou Island in Lake Parmachenee, then the property of the Brown Paper Company. The President would be driving to Maine Saturday morning and careful arrangements had been made that on the way he would pause for lunch in the Grant.
The question, of course, was how many camp followers would accompany the President, all expecting to be fed. Dickey telephoned to members of the Dartmouth Outing Club in Hanover to come on the run, bringing beans to be baked. Trout, obviously, would be the main course and beans baked in a deep pit overnight, with Mrs. Dickey's rhubarb and cookies for dessert. ``Come on, boys,'' said John, pulling on his waders. ``All you can catch. We'll fish till dark.'' This, of course, included Sam, who went off to his secret place with a can of worms. John distributed us at different pools, and the Forest Center was deserted. The boys from Hanover were digging a pit for the baked beans as we departed.
The moon was up when we returned with 42 trout, under and over a pound. Sam had captured the beauty of 21/2 pounds. ``That's for Ike,'' said John.
Saturday morning was clear and sunny. We moved benches outdoors where the trout were to be broiled on a barbecue grill. The boys reported the beans were about ready, and while we were waiting John trained his binoculars on a high crag across the valley where we had observed an eagle and its mate on their nest. Then the phone rang and the guardian announced that the President's party was entering the gate.
Perhaps it was the sight of the line of cars that attracted the male eagle, which left the nest and tilted toward our clearing. It was high overhead, riding the air currents, when the first car appeared. As John stepped forward in greeting he said, ``Mr. President, there's an eagle up there which just came out to make you welcome,'' and, as we all looked up, there it was.
Among the visitors were Sinclair Weeks, senators, congressmen, Secret Service, and many reporters. John did the honors. Each of us was presented to Ike, who praised the men from Dartmouth for their baking, the anglers for their catch, and Sam for his prize fish, now gleaming on a platter. Dartmouth had conferred an honorary degree upon Eisenhower early in his presidency and he and Dickey had a mutual admiration.
The trout were to be broiled on an open grill, but the first batch were put over the coals too soon by our volunteer cook and came out stiff, white, and overdone. Ike observed the operation skeptically. I noticed that he rubbed his prize fish with bacon and encased it in chef's foil before he donned the gloves and put it on the fire. He took it out in a jiffy, and when the foil was unwrapped the fish was still juicy and cooked to perfection. He gave a bite to each of us at the presidents' table. The reporters were being served separately, close to the bean pit, by members of the Outing Club, and their trout were juicier than what first came off our grill.
In the early afternoon Ike resumed his journey to Maine; it was only later that we heard of his experience at the Parmachenee Club. He was eager to try his new rod in the late afternoon of his arrival, and out he went with an ancient and rather subdued guide. In a surprisingly short time he hooked and netted a landlocked salmon of three pounds, and then a sizable trout. ``Is the fishing always as good as this?'' he asked his guide. ``Well, . . . no,'' was the candid reply. ``They stocked the lake for your coming and put wire over the outlet.'' Ike considered, but this was too much for his flash temper. ``Take me back to the club,'' he ordered. ``I don't want to fish in a prison!'' Nor would he go out the next morning until the wire was removed.