We could all learn from Jim Harrison

“The world that used to nurse us now keeps shouting inane instructions. That’s why I ran to the woods.” — Jim Harrison

Several years ago, on a mission to connect with more literature set in my home state of Michigan, I came across a Jim Harrison book. I picked it up at the bookstore, flipped through the pages, did a quick Google search on my phone — felt the embarrassment of taking so long to discover his work — and then made the purchase.

The name of the book was True North. Since that day I’ve read six of Mr. Harrison’s books, and there are still a few — like his final book The Ancient Minstrel — that remain very high on my reading list.

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The Michigan connection is what first drew me to his work, but the writing itself and the life he lived are what kept me reading. He wrote gritty yet eloquent prose. There was so much honesty in what he wrote. It was brutal truth, the kind people often don’t like to hear. And his lifestyle was so simple and rare compared to many authors today. In his own words, “The natural world would always be there to save me from suffocating in my human problems.”

Until the day he died — literally passing away with the pen still in his hand, the stuff of legend — he wrote with pen and paper. There were no computers involved. It wasn’t about cranking out manuscripts and meeting word count requirements. Writing was an art, and he never ceased treating it that way. At one point in his career he experimented with a typewriter, but he abandoned that.

He also lived in the country, whether it was on the Leelanau Peninsula in northern Michigan, or a ranch in Montana or Arizona. Life wasn’t about big city lights and Hollywood parties for Harrison — though he did plenty of partying in Hollywood in his younger days. It was the simple things, such as hunting, fishing and taking walks through nature with his dogs that he coveted so dearly.

It’s a damn shame he passed away in March 2016, because in today’s crazy world we need more influencers like Jim Harrison to remind us what’s important in life.

Read Harrison’s memoir, Off to the Side, to understand the full picture of his life — in his own words. “My life could have been otherwise,” Harrison writes simply, “but it wasn’t.”

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