“Jonathan, come here.” Harrison took hold of my shirt and pulled me down beside his chair to see from his perspective. “Look at that! The French call that glacée.”
I’ve recently learned the word means ice.
How perfect! The summer moonrise, like ice on the water.
In the dozen or so years that followed that first meeting, my friendship with Harrison became a great source of instruction in many ways of seeing. And of living. Not only had my fear of meeting him been unfounded, indeed, his company, just like his writing, taught me to more fully occupy my existence.
Now that he is gone, I have been remembering those lessons.
He reminded me that we must be playful. It saddens me to think my phone will never again display Jim Harrison for an incoming call, promising one of those goofy conversation openers of his. Once my wife Amy answered and he told her that he was going to open a gas station and wear a jumpsuit. He asked if she wanted to take over the writing.
Harrison also instructed me in generosity. He often asked what I was working on. A memoir, I answered once, about Amy and me building a cabin in the mountains and losing our first child there to a premature stillbirth. He asked to see the manuscript, and a few weeks later, I received a letter from him with another incredibly kind blurb of the sort that sells books. But even more helpful was what he wrote at the end of the letter. He told me of a belief among certain far northern Native Americans that the souls of babies who die like ours become birds. “I have always chosen to believe this,” he wrote.
Chosen to believe.
The instruction in those words has served me well as I’ve searched for my own spiritual truths and comforts in the natural world. We can choose to believe.