Remembering Jim Harrison

Eight years ago, Jim Harrison generously offered to meet me on the Missouri River. At the time, I was an assistant editor at Field & Stream Magazine, and I was sitting in my cubicle in our New York office with a telephone to my ear. Mr. Harrison was at his winter home in Arizona, I believe. He was writing a piece for the magazine, and by luck I got the job of clearing up a detail in the story because our publication deadline was nearing and the senior editor in charge of that piece was out for the day. I have no idea any more what that particular detail was, but I will always remember hearing Mr. Harrison’s measured, gravelly voice on the telephone and his willingness to let the conversation turn to fly fishing in Montana and comparing some of our favorite spots.

We didn’t speak long, and I never spoke to him again. It’s the same old story—I got busy. Busy leaving New York and finding new work in Seattle, busy getting married, busy becoming a father. Calling up to say, “Hey, remember that five-minute phone conversation we had back in ’08…” starts to feel increasingly absurd. Surely it would have been absurd, too, though I don’t think he would have minded in the least and I even like to imagine that he happily would have made the trip if he was able. He left that kind of impression on me.

But I am writing all of this really just to say that I am extremely sad that he has passed. He has been one of the biggest influences on my own writing since I first read Legends of the Fall as a teenager and then went on to devour a good number of his books, spacing them apart a bit because I don’t like the idea of running out of them, my rationale somewhat akin to that of a kid trying to make his Halloween candy last (a habit I also apply to the novels of Raymond Chandler, Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf among others). I think now I will go back to his catalogue and indulge my sweet tooth. His books are wonderful treats.


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