Monday, March 28, 2016

Jim Harrison, 1937 – 2016

         The legal provenance of this image is obscure. Should the owner desire its removal, speak & consider that done.
To the photographer, well done indeed.

How does one wish Rest in Peace to one of the most relentlessly restive spirits of American letters?

James Harrison was a poet, a gourmand of note, an essayist, cranky literary critic and pal of Jack Nicholson. Along with John Voelker, Harrison is one of two great American authors to explore the wilds of the Upper Peninsula in prose, in depth and consistently nail it. Each man did that with rare insight, singularly American humor and a profound humanism that they applied with great craft to story.

Voelker was born in the U.P. and Harrison wasn't, so my native sympathies must lean to the Judge. But Jim Harrison is nobody's second. He was a man who lived on the U.P. better than most folk not born there ever can and he revisited the place in life and in penetrating prose over and over and over again. No matter that the old man died in Arizona. Snowbirds do that.

During the Odyssey, with a handful of other tourists I went to the overlook at Summit Peak in the Porkies, duty called. Near the end of a long day on the road the climb up the hill then up the stinkin' tower just to see more woods was arduous. Still, from the top of the tower there's more wilderness than the eye can readily wrap around, all of it rolling into the south shore of a magnificently indifferent freshwater sea. The sun was bright, a light breeze cleansed the sweat from us and as tourists do, we talked.

I walked down that hill with a married couple a few years older than my peers. It was fun. They were smart. Witty. Well traveled. Flush when most everyone else wasn't and enjoying the hell out of that, you could just tell. Yeah, I know. But you could. And it bears mentioning.

Near the parking lot somehow the conversation turned to Jim Harrison, whom the woman wished dead.

It went approximately like this:

Harrison blames what happened to the Indians on us. He's decrepit and on death's door out in the desert, good riddance.

It was a hard turn to an otherwise pleasant conversation between passing strangers. I bid the couple travel safely, thinking: Any writer that hated has done one helluva job.

It would've been sometime in 2012.

I've thought about that woman often, since then. Especially with each new Jim Harrison book that came after, which by rough count includes two new collections, two novels, a book of poetry and the Brown Dog collection, complete with an entirely appropriate and satisfactory ending to the long winding story of Harrison's most fully realized and sympathetic character. Good Lord, the man's river flowed at the end.

We should all be so decrepit, eh lady?

Jim Harrison left us a particularly rich and robust body of work. His spirit will remain restive so long as the words we live on live on. That'd be about how he wanted it, I figure.

In any case, tonight glasses are lifted in his honor in Grand Marais and other places all over the world. Harrison liked the good life and make no mistake. I don't know if his was a life well lived or not, that's not for me to say. What's true is that the man lived it large and came bearing gifts.

Godspeed, Jim Harrison. Thank-you.

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