It Was Easy if You Tried to Keep Calm

I think we all saw it coming soon, but it’s still a shock when it happens. I posted this yesterday morning to Facebook when I first learned the news:

I got up this morning and made some coffee. While it brewed, I watched the birds outside at the feeder. Mostly red-winged blackbirds, though a northern flicker joined them. A few sparrows. Then the neighborhood chickens arrived, followed by some mourning doves. I lingered a little with my wife, who typically works Sundays. Three cheers to Jesus for getting her the time off today. Finally, I sat at the counter and drank some coffee and finished reading a novella called “The Man Who Gave Up His Name.” It’s about a man who leaves corporate work, gives away his money, and becomes a cook. I could relate to him, of course. It is a story written by my favorite writer, Jim Harrison, and is the middle novella in the collection of three that comprises his breakout book Legends of the Fall. I set the book aside, moved to my computer and opened up Twitter. The first post I saw was from Benjamin Percy, offering up an RIP to Harrison, who died yesterday, and I find, despite having never met the man (though one time I did sit outside the driveway of his Arizona home where he died), that I miss him already.

I’m sad. I’m grateful I was able to review his most recent collection of poetry for the Indy. I’m also grateful I still have so much of his work to read for the first time. That doesn’t make it any easier.

It is good to see so many folks offering their thoughts about Harrison. His importance to me as a writer cannot be overstated, especially as a man with fewer years left in life than what I’ve already used up. There are many of his excellent quotes floating around, and I’ve collected my share. However, I am going to close with the following, from “The Man Who Gave Up His Name,” which represents the final paragraph I read while still thinking Jim Harrison was alive.

At midnight Nordstrom was sitting in the dark in his hotel bedroom looking at the moon and thinking about lily pads. Sonia had insisted he go to the Museum of Modern Art to see the huge paintings of lily pads by Monet and he had gone after lunch, staring at them utterly blankminded for an hour. Now in the moonlight all of the lily pads on the lakes of northern Wisconsin revolved before him. Sometimes they had small buttery-yellow flowers and sometimes they had large white flowers, strong with an eerie perfume he could smell twenty-five years later in a hotel room. He didn’t know if in the morning he would leave on his trip or go to Wisconsin for a few weeks. Bass hid under the lily pads and he used to swim under them and look upward so that the pads looked like small green islands in the air refracting the light. He had given the cocaine to the Sephard over dinner. The Sephard had been relieved but puzzled when Nordstrom insisted that Slats and Sarah were “nice people.” The was a neurotic English girl with a perfect fanny with the Sephard. She wanted to call a friend for Nordstrom but he said no. He was really quite tired. Just breathing on the bed in the moonlight seemed quite enough for the moment. First you breathed in, then out, and so on. It was easy if you tried to keep calm.

 

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Lily pad via iPhone, Seeley Lake, Montana, August 2012

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He lives and travels from Missoula, MT.

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