I didn’t come to know Jim Harrison like so many around the release — literary or theatrical — of Legends of the Fall, the epic drama of the American west that ushered the author into his greatest period of financial success and critical acknowledgement. In fact, it was an episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain — a terrific author in his own right — that introduced me to this callous American storyteller. Bourdain’s interview encouraged me to pick up Wolf, Harrison’s (supposedly) semi-autobiographical book about a young man wandering America in search of his identity (and sex). Once completed, I proceeded to devour everything else he’d published. His prose reminded me of a soft-spoken Cormac McCarthy, with a layer of compassion and wonder for the natural world. His stories are haunting and visceral, but somehow keep the reader in awe of the small beauties that impart all the meaning to our lives.
I suppose I’ve been drawn to Harrison not only for the quality of his writing, but also for his unapologetic hunger for life. Few have the courage to live with the relish that Harrison did over the course of his 79 years. Beyond his reputation as a poet, essayist, and author, Harrison was also an avid gourmand and enjoyer of the finer tastes that life has to offer (check out his memoir The Raw and the Cooked for more on this facet of his life). Margalit Fox of The New York Times cleverly summarized the pursuits that defined his life in a series of monosyllabic words: walk, drive, hunt, fish, cook, drink, smoke, write. Could there be anything more pastoral, idyllic, and wildly inviting than a life lived to pursue these tasks?
Harrison leaves this world having had a permanent impact on my life, but also, and far more importantly, on the landscape of American literature. He was a dangerous man in every sense, and I hope I’ll have learned to live just a bit more bravely and authentically having read his words.