Jim Harrison, reading some of his work.
He’s lived in the house next door since 1956 and he’s always up early working in his garden or, since the fall, raking leaves. He’s 91 now and he’s lived alone since his wife passed away.
The other day he fell down the stairs with such velocity that he crashed through the drywall and broke his hip. Bloodied, dazed and unable to walk he dragged himself across the entire first floor of his house and somehow knocked the phone off the wall and called for help.
After the blizzard, another neighbor and I shoveled his driveway for him and I noticed the sticker on his back fender. “World War II Vet. Semper Fi.”
You may lose a lot of things when you grow old, but toughness, it seems, never fades.
When the fish have migrated there are the mountains. Regardless of what some say on the other side of the Divide, they exist in the East. Skiing is a lot like fly fishing in that despite the heavy investment in time, energy and equity there is really no point to its pursuit. Which, to many, is precisely the point. Wiser souls agree:
“Living’s mostly wasting time, and I’ll waste my share of mine.” –Townes Van Zandt
Thank you TVZ, I believe I will throw another log on the fire.
In the coming year, I resolve to smile more.
The old priest wrote the letter to Aunt Peg by hand. “You are of Clan Ian Roudh (Red John),” the letter starts. The direct family line in America went through Ian Liath (Grey John), who emigrated from the Highlands to Canada in 1786. He was a Gaelic poet.
The script is still strong on the faded photocopies, made of the original sent by Father Ewan to Aunt Peg in 1955. “He came from Knoydart,” the letter continues, “on the west coast of Scotland.” It’s part of an area known as the Rough Bounds.
I remember viewing the rugged, empty hills from my own trip to Scotland, on the way to the Isle of Skye. The land looked muscular, with protruding rock and muted vegetation and dark, cold waters. The rolling clouds and chill wind added to the sense of untamed foreboding. And emptiness.
“There are few if any of our people in the Highlands,” wrote Father Ewan. “You know why.” He was speaking of the Highland Clearances, when the British Lords drove the people out of the hills and replaced them with sheep.
True, our clan migrated down from Ontario into the States, overtly retaining their Catholocism and, maybe subconciously, the imprint of Knoydart.
“Our people did better in this country,” wrote Father Ewan. And that sentence stuck. We are here now, in cities and towns and interconnected. Are we meant to seek areas away from comfort? Sometimes it’s necessary to put the laptop down and find out.
A canal runs along the berm separating wilderness from civilization, but that demarcation is lost on the alligators. They migrate out of the swamp and into the canals and the farm ponds until a dog goes missing and someone calls for their removal.
We rode a gas-powered cart along the edge of the canal in search of largemouth bass and we saw the white underbelly of a floating alligator that was missing its head. My friend speculated that some crackers had done it, on a midnight joyride. The odor of decay wafted over the area and in the morning heat we moved on.
Another canal ran parallel, about a half mile to the east, abutted by a series of horse paddocks. The horses mostly worked the fields with their heads down, swatting their hind quarters with their tails. At dusk they’d move into the stables to feed. As with pool tables, swimming pools and Irish pubs, it’s better not to own a horse but to have a good friend who does. I had been offered the opportunity to ride the trail along the swamp’s edge, but chose to go fishing instead.
Bass are not too hard to find in the backwaters and if you make enough casts one of them is going to take a pass at a popper. Just don’t bend down for too long on release, lest you present a canine profile to the local reptiles.