A Midwestern Memory
“The wilderness does not make you forget your normal life so much as it removes the distractions for proper rememberings"
Reading has always been an escape for me, as I often used the books I read to drown out the world around me. However, when I delved into my first Jim Harrison piece, I realized that the world I was immersing myself in, quite simply, felt like home. Growing up in rural Michigan I was no stranger to the beautiful nature that the Midwest landscape can provide. A lover of the outdoors since before I can remember, much of my life has been spent exploring Michigan forests, fishing the bright blue waters of its countless lakes, working in hay fields, or sitting on a tailgate and watching fireflies dance across a sea of soybeans or wheat. There’s truly no comparison to being exposed to the untouched natural world on a daily basis like that, which also makes it very difficult to effectively share with others. Yet, that is exactly what Jim Harrison did.
A native of Michigan himself, he successfully showed his readers the beauty of raw nature’s simplicity. Like how visually stunning a fall morning’s first frost can be, or how soothing waking up to the chatter of a forest is after you’ve let the sun lull you to sleep. Harrison captured the outdoor environment that people often find themselves daydreaming about from their office chair, and then he made those environments, and the characters within them, seem like a reality. One could argue that it was because of his style that his stories were so vivid, and no doubt, Harrison was a masterful writer; however, what brought his tales to life were his personal experiences. Harrison lived those lives. He resided in the seclusion of wilderness, dealt with personal tragedy, hunted for his own food, and appreciated the life of the countless animals around him until his very last day. Internally complex himself, Harrison brought the intimate and complicated relationship of humans and nature to the pages of a book unlike any other, and for that; both myself and the literary world will miss him dearly. Going forward, all I can hope to do is someday convey my stories with the same honesty and conviction that he did.
For anyone who is interested in picking up a Jim Harrison novel or novella for the first time, there are many to choose from. An obvious choice could be his most popular novella, Legends of the Fall, which has also been adapted to the screen, and made into a film starring Brad Pitt. However, my suggestion is to start with Dalva, or one of his more recent collection of novellas, Brown Dog. A gifted poet as well, Harrison made sure to write a poem every day of his life, my personal favorite being a poem titled “I Believe,” which can be found in his 2010 book of poetry titled, In Search of Small Gods. Whichever work you start with, you will no doubt find yourself entangled within and personally connected to both Harrison and his characters; good writing has a way of doing that.
In memory of the ruggedly honest, Jim Harrison (1937-2016)
“Death steals everything from us except our stories”
lawrence stone macbeth
I believe in steep drop-offs, the thunderstorm across the lake
in 1949, cold winds, empty swimming pools,
the overgrown path to the creek, raw garlic,
used tires, taverns, saloons, bars, gallons of red wine,
abandoned farmhouses, stunted lilac groves,
gravel roads that end, brush piles, thickets, girls
who haven’t quite gone totally wild, river eddies,
leaky wooden boats, the smell of used engine oil,
turbulent rivers, lakes without cottages lost in the woods,
the primrose growing out of a cow skull, the thousands
of birds I’ve talked to all of my life, the dogs
that talked back, the Chihuahuan ravens that follow
me on long walks. The rattler escaping the cold hose,
the fluttering unknown gods that I nearly see
from the left corner of my blind eye, struggling
to stay alive in a world that grinds them underfoot.