How is it that the dead are able to stay with us for so long after their body is buried, covered by the earth? Business is never finished and that is true also for the dead. It has been over a year since my father in law has passed away and we are still handling his possessions. Those who don’t believe in immortality have never dealt with an estate after death. Items remain, bill collectors come calling, houses sit dormant, family photos with people unknown to those who remain are tossed into boxes and stored away in the hopes that somebody still knows or cares about the ghost in the pictures, and there are the clothes. A family of foxes have taken up residence at the old house and it is hard to say if this is a good omen or bad. The fox is known to be sly and could be mocking us at our choice to sell the place, or it was a warning to get rid of the property as soon as possible. Either way you never know until you are looking at the end result and hind sight is always 20/20. Immortality is different for writers, successful ones that is. While your books will appear on store shelves for the next hundred years mine just started to appear in the used book stores. There was a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in seeing my book sitting in a pile of donated material but it was sad to find the bookmark halfway through. The person who doesn’t finish reading your book is the ultimate critic. I was listening to a book yesterday called Inadvertent and the writer, a superstar from Norway, was talking about why he writes. The goal in his mind was to express an idea on paper and to say it so clearly that anyone can understand it. Then in a separate interview he talked about how his essays and books are about nothing and how well he can write about nothing. I started to wonder if these were the same thing, after all in this world where you can find anything on the internet and it would appear that anything that had to be said has been said, then is nothing the new thing to share that people can understand? Nihilism is the new cool and I can tell you this coming generation does not care about the people who came before or the ones who will be here in the future. The 80s notion of not caring because we are all going to die in a burning inferno of our own doing is alive and well, without the cocaine. I’m waiting for the day that someone out there writes a book called “Nothing Matters” and when you open the pages to start reading you find a title page and everything is blank afterwards. That would push the point home. Of course, the book would be declared a piece of genius, the critics would ask the symbolism of why it was 350 pages instead of one or two hundred. People will spend ungodly amounts of money for a signed first edition and people would still spend money to download and almost blank file onto their phones and computers because it is the cool thing to do and nothing matters. Physicist will claim this was the breakthrough they were looking for in quantum mechanics and wars would stop for five minutes. Then one person, the only one who can still think for themselves, will point out that the book is a fraud and that the world had been swindled by a giant hoax. In the end the author, whoever it may be, will still live long after death in the public mind for the grand book they never wrote because it didn’t matter. I laugh at these professors who try to say what the author really meant and what the story was really about. You and I both know that the author wanted to write. If the book was published it was good enough to make money on. If the public liked it, then it was a good story. If it becomes a classic then it was written well. In the end it comes down to the author needing a paycheck, needed to fight boredom, was trying to get out of his own life, or heaven forbid they were hearing voices. People are not perfect and we know that writers are far from that. Will Self is too lazy to write in paragraphs. David Foster Wallace was bitten by the Thomas Wolfe bug and thought good writing was determined by weight and not style. The Russians found a way to make depression a communicable disease. As for you, well we know how you felt about nature, sex, and food. Things that anyone, especially the French, could understand. Through a book we can learn what a person was thinking about at a certain time in their life. In that sense a part of us lives on. Is there anything more we could hope for?
I came across a signed copy of Julip Saturday and bought it. Maybe you would think of me as an idiot or maybe you would be surprised that someone would keep such a thing, who knows? What is the point of collecting something just because a person signed it, one that you have never met and never will? Your grave is still a mystery and yet you would visit the graves of those that you admired if you had the chance. I can hope that you had your ashes spread and by chance a part of you is somewhere close, inhabiting the landscape in a way that haunts that which you enjoyed and loved so much. There is a film crew tracking your steps, visiting the bars and walkways you once traveled. I don’t know what they will find along the way or how accurate their movie will be. Everything is about perspective and if they want to paint you in a positive light or make you out to be the crass asshole you could be at times. I personally hope they find a middle ground and point out that you were just a man. Your aversion in being compared to Hemingway is understandable, a high marker that no man should be compared to because no matter how hard you try nobody could live up to the expectations one would immediately have on you. How fair is that anyway? It was a different time, a different world and only one person could possibly live the life is the one that he lived. That mold was filled and it was not reproduced with you. I was tempted to try my hand at ordering off of a menu as you had done, pointing to various items and saying “this… and this… oh and this too” going on until the table was filled and I would have to sit there until my buttons popped and people looked at me like I was a crazed individual that had just escaped from a concentration camp. Instead, I ordered the pork belly BLT and called it good. I’m not at that point yet plus I need a reason to go back and try something else. My life isn’t on the road and if I am to be in towns often that I don’t know I need something to look forward to. The sky finally cleared today, the weekend was clouded in gray and the cold rain hung over like a wet blanket of despair. Winter is not here yet and already I dread the lack of sun and the depression that comes with it. On the other hand, it leaves no option than to sit down and write, something I am lacking these days. I have noticed that once in a while you will mention books that you have read over your lifetime and I’m thinking about starting a list. Of course, I don’t know what exactly you enjoyed and what you didn’t but I have to assume that if you liked something that’s what you would have recalled, if I’m wrong you can always haunt my ass and set me straight. The deer are on the move lately, roaming the streets searching for food to prepare for winter. A giant buck has made it clear to me who owns this neighborhood and I am nothing but a nuisance in his eyes. I have considered going deer hunting this fall and after seeing him I wonder if I could actually pull the trigger this time if the option presented itself. There is a big difference between shooting a squirrel, catching a fish and having that disconnect between yourself and the life you took. The deer on the other hand seems to be a beast that knows you are out to get him and has an opinion about it. I suppose if I was hungry these thoughts wouldn’t come to mind and that could be the trick to a successful hunt. Leave with an empty stomach and you won’t have any qualms about taking a shot and dragging something out of the woods. Sorry bucko, I have mouths to feed and you looked pretty good at the time. It is the nature of things. Would things have been different this weekend if I had to shoot the pig behind the brewery to enjoy that BLT? I would like to say not but I know better. There is something different in a person that can take a life and even though I have been the end to many squirrel and fish I don’t know if I have it in me to take something bigger. That could be the next challenge I face this year. What is the worse that can happen? I have a nice day out in the woods? One couldn’t ask for less on a good day.
Your movie Wolf was about cocaine, right? I haven’t read the book of the same name but I have to assume that with your discontent for Hollywood and the drug seen that the reason Jack Nicholson is running around feeling good, able to smell everything, have a boost in unwarranted confidence, and sleeps for 20 hours after a bender isn’t a coincidence. I have never taken the drug myself but know a few who have. The last man I ran into had just received his disability check and snorted the funds up his nose in one day. All of the Narcan training that people had been given was useless, his heart had stopped from the opposite of heroin. The woods visited me last night, a giant two-hundred-pound deer with a rack that would have made Dolly Parton jealous was standing in the neighbor’s yard when I came home.
We exchanged some snorts and he didn’t seem to care about my presence. It wasn’t until a few trucks drove by that he decided to leave. Before entering the swamp across the street, he turned at me and grunted one last time reminding me that he was the boss. I’m surprised that the neighborhood cats haven’t tried to take him down but it would be like the democratic party trying to take down a republican president. Cats do not form an army well and a liberal party with thirty agendas doesn’t accomplish much. When my non-disclosure agreement expired with my old Hollywood job, I wrote a book called Golden. Maybe it was to burn some bridges and not become caught up in the glitz and glory of a false god. Things must have been different back in your day because if I tried to live off of what I was paid I would have been homeless eating an endless supply of Top Ramen noodles. The last two days have been good except for the endless assault of my daughter who doesn’t have an off switch. The terrible twos is a horrible name for this disease. Maybe it should be called the traumatic twos or the terrifying twos, or the Trumpian twos. the last one might be considered a low blow but there isn’t too much to aim for down there from what I have been told. How is a writer supposed to make a living in a world where people don’t read anymore? Even I have been guilty of this, pulling out my voluntary bugging device and looking at the latest mind-numbing content on the internet. Before we clean up Washington, we should do a thorough flushing enema of the internet first. We can start with rotten tomatoes first who gave your movie between a 62 and 43% rating. I guess the audience didn’t see the point. I will have to grab Wolf from the self sooner than later and see for myself what your first novel was all about. These days good literature doesn’t get publish because nobody reads it and if you want to make a buck these days you have to conform to one or several options for prostitution that are available to be exploded by. I’m tired of getting screwed these days. You spend your time and effort trying to create something real and in the end all you end up with is a bill, lost time, and a sore ass in the end. That reminds me, I need to pick up a new cushion for my chair.
Tacos was the mission for the day. Sarah had seen a place on Front street where food trucks parked for the day and sold a variety of food with a bar located nearby. The Fleet is a year round bar that uses the parking lot outside for a seasonal food truck rally. After we parked several blocks away at an affordable parking lot, $1.20 for two hours, we found the food trucks and roamed around seeking the most creative menu items we could find. At Happy Tacos we found our lunch and placed the order. I had the lamb patty cheese burger taco, crunchy shrimp taco, and the Korean spicy pork taco. At four dollars a pop they didn’t disappoint and left me full the majority of the day. Sarah had a similar menu.Once lunch was over we traced our steps back down Front street and found two shops we had spotted along the way. Sarah took Zoey with her in to the basement shop filled with local arts and crafts while I went a few doors down to Nolan’s Cigar Bar. This was the only place in Traverse city where a person can sit and have a drink while enjoying a cigar. I went to the room next door and immediately found a wall covered in tobacco pipes and jars sitting on shelves filled with pipe tobacco. Two young men smoking cigars asked me if I needed any help and I replied that I was looking for something unique, something that was blended specifically for the shop. They had an entire case that filled the bill. The man had me smell the blends one at a time and I chose the most popular blends that they offered from Cherry festival to their Downtown Blend. I went home with four bags. Looking on the wall before I cashed out, I said to myself that I didn’t need a new pipe. I had no use for a new pipe. I really like that red pipe. I think I will buy that red pipe. That was what I did, I asked to see the red bent stem Italian hand crafted by Lorenzo pipe and it was added to my order. A handful of matches were added to the bag and I was out the door.We passed by Horizon books and afterwards regretted not going in but time was limited. I found online that they had several first edition and autographed books by Jim in their stacks. We visited a few shops and I found myself in Brilliant books looking for some books of poetry by Jim. They had a decent selection and I bought the two that I felt would be the hardest to come by. At the counter I asked the clerk if he had anything else by Jim that I didn’t see and he proceeded to tell me a story.
“We had a memorial display for Jim after he died. We found a nice smoky picture of him with the dates of his birth and death and set it up in that corner. We thought it would stay out for a month or so but three years later it was still there. We had people coming in several times a week to see it. Then one day someone came in and stole the picture, sneaking it out the door.”I paid for my books and the clerk asked if we had seen Jim’s house out in Leland. I had to confess that we had not, we only stopped at Dick’s Pour House and had gone the wrong day to Blue Bird Tavern. The clerk told me another story about his mother coming to visit and being from the area. She had taken her son to Dick’s and said she knew the owners. He though she was making stuff up because of her age but it turned out she did know the second generation of owners of the place.
Once we left I went into The Franklin, a well known establishment who catered to a small but well known group people, Jim being one of them. Marilyn Monroe was on the wall along with Sean Connery and Albert Einstein. All of these people had eaten or drank at The Franklin at one time or another. Jim’s face was plastered on the wall right in the middle with his cigarette in his mouth and his eyes squinting as if he was thinking “what are you staring at?” I didn’t get to take the place it with the few minutes I had but I did notice the girl working the front desk who barely spoke English and had a French copy of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. Maybe one day he will be added to the wall and I will have another reason to go back and enjoy an old fashion at the bar.
Our last stop was at The Cheese Lady and once my wife picked out a few flavors for her mother we left Traverse city happy to not see it again for a while. The traffic, even in the off season, was thick and sticky like a weird fungus you can’t get away from. The cars come to a halt and you sit there wondering when you will be able to move again. The city, like the old insane asylum, is a prison in a way. The only way to really get around is in a helicopter or a small bike where you can weave in and out of traffic and hope to not be caught by local police for riding on the sidewalk, a ticketable offence.
We went to sleeping bear dunes and took the Empire trail to the lookout. The idea was to have Zoey walk the three quarters of a mile to the lookout and ware her out so that she would sleep good overnight. Instead she fell asleep in the car ride there and continued to sleep as I carried her to the lookout, uphill.
Zoey eventually woke up and proceeded to hoot, holler, and cry at every little thing. The walk back was just like the walk in, me carrying her in my arms while I went up and down the hills to the car. The final hundred yards, all of it downhill to the parking lot, was where Zoey decided to walk the rest of the way.In town we stopped at Joe’s Friendly Tavern to enjoy some Cherry burgers. I asked the waitress if this was a place that Jim had ever gone to. She went into the kitchen where a cook named Matt was working and had been there long enough to remember Jim. Joe’s was a known Hangout but we were also told he preferred to go to Art’s Tavern instead. I wrote off the stop as a success considering how delicious the burger was and seeing that Jim would go here.
The beach in empire reminded me of Lake Superior with large stones lining the shore. People walked along the water picking up stones and tossing them back as if it wasn’t up to their standards.
The drive back to the cabin felt long and in the end all we wanted to do was enjoy a fire our last night here and drink the bottle of Cotes Du Rhone I bought a few days before.That night the wind howled and once the fire was burning red coals shot into the air with each gust. Half an hour in and half of the bottle gone we went inside to call it a night. A storm rolled through and the roof shook as sheets of rain slapped down and still this was the quietest night I had enjoyed in a long time. There is something calm about the north, the lack of cars driving past, no sirens in the night from a car crash or shooting, no neighbors leaving at all hours of the night, the only lights that are on are the ones you didn’t turn off. I can understand why people flee north into the solitude of a remote country. The few nights of good sleep I have had in the last two years were not at home but in the north in a foreign land that I barely know. I hope to be more familiar with it, learn what it was that kept Jim there for most of his life. Its not difficult to figure out. Life is slow, calm, people live with the seasons and on the lake it is no different from a town on the sea. Cabin fever is a real phenomenon. There are five radio stations to choose from and people still read books. The north is a time capsule to a better time, when people thought about what mattered and sometimes it tortured them to the end.
The day appeared to be a bust. For some reason I thought that Dick’s Pour House was in Traverse City but I was horribly wrong. Our mission was to hit the peninsula with all of the wineries visible from Traverse City. For years I had heard stories from people about going to Traverse City and how the wine was “soooo amazing.” I had gone on the south west Michigan wine trail several times and found most of the wines to be far superior than anything I had tried from up north. Harrison on the other hand had a different opinion. “I have yet to find a domestic red wine worth drinking.” His taste stayed with the French reds and I had to admit a fondness for Italian reds and the occasional Cotes du Rhone. I found no harm in exploring a region that has been working on creating tasty wine and thought maybe Jim was selling himself with not exploring what was available in the region.
The day started out with breakfast at the Flap Jack Shack, a retro establishment that looked like it was straight out of a 1970’s film with wooden beams holding up a cathedral ceiling, orange seated stools around a bar with a marble top and glass tiled side. The only thing missing would have been shag carpeting but that was likely removed years before due to health code violations.
I chose a sausage gravy omelet while my wife ordered a skillet meal. Zoey had a banana sushi dish coming her way. The place was packed when we walked in. the day was 9-11 and the television wouldn’t let me forget what the day was. For days now I had gone without a television and the one day I try to forget for my own sanity I have to see images of the trade center towers and the pentagon building on fire. Meanwhile the current president is on record stating that trump tower is now the tallest building in New York city on the day that it happened.
After filling my belly and watching zoey cover her face with peanut butter and whip cream we drove through town and went up the county road into the peninsula in search of some good wines. Our first stop was an old school house, Peninsula Cellars reminded me of a few places back home, specifically Texas Corners brewery that also used an old school house for their place of business. The tasting was cheap, $5 for five wines and everything on the menu we tried was to our liking. Not wanting to spend all of our money at one place we bought one bottle and went about our travels. I will say I am looking forward to having Detention again at some point and the Foreign Exchange Student was a delight on my tongue. Take that as you will.
Next on our travels was Bonobo Winery, a scenic place that over looked the wine fields and had a deck that people could enjoy with a glass or five. From the start there were a few things that were odd. It was $12 to try five wines and there were only five wines to choose from. The wines were nothing to brag about and their prices said more about the owners than their quality. As we went through our tasting more people came in and they appeared to be models straight out of a mall shopping catalogue. All the women in this place were blonde and tried to fit some kind of breasts, waist, bust ratio that I was not too impressed with. Hair was blonde and cut to a specific length that wasn’t too long or too short. Blue eyes were either fake or real. Tans were fake, sprayed on by some latin American pool boy.
A storm rolled in and while we were waiting for our last couple of glasses two guys that could have been fill in for the movie Sideways walked in. the mouthy good looking guy kept making comments and asking to do things that were not only never done but also illegal under the law. No, you can’t grab your flight of wines and sit on the deck watching the storm roll in. none of the wines appealed to us and in the end we raced out of the tasting room to the car in down pouring rain to find an antique shop next door to de-douche from the experience.
The antique shop was amazing. A three story barn with tons of things to look over and Zoey found an old metal doll house to test her tetenous shot against. Downstairs I found a copy of Hemingway’s By-Line: a collection of correspondence and articles written by the man over four decades. This was put together after his death but considering how hard it is to find his non-fiction I had to dish out the $16 for this hard cover edition with the dust cover.
Next in line was Bower Wines, the second oldest winery on the peninsula and featuring dogs on many of their bottles. The place was busy and to do a tasting there was to spend an hour waiting for a spot to open at the bar and to wait for the drinks to eventually be poured. I ended up enjoying a 2018 wood free Chardonnay and bought a bottle to take home. I learned a little history of the wine industry for the area but nothing spectacular. Before the 1990s the wine trade did not exist here, so maybe in Jim’s defense they did not know what they were doing at first and his opinion was correct for the time.
The rain cleared and we were on our way. 2 Lads were waiting for us and the place did not disappoint. The view over the lake was spectacular and at first the tasting was a bit of a disappointment. $12 a piece to try five wines and there were a few snacks to enjoy with it. Who ever had the idea of adding a spicy dip to the snacks is a fucking idiot and should be taken out back and beaten. Regardless, the wine ended up being good and I had the pleasure of trying a Cab Franc that was so tasty I paid the $35 for a bottle that I never could justify otherwise.
On our way out of the peninsula we stopped at Brys wines and by this point we didn’t want to do a tasting, burned out on bad wine and over priced samples that said “our stuff is so good you should be pleased that you tried it.” I found the more a place charges the less confidence they have in their product and for good reason. Brys was also $12 for a tasting of five wines and at this point we decided to just buy a glass and sit on the deck. I was a nice view but the point to was to figure out where to go from here.
We had not thought that for ahead and decided to hit Dick’s Pour House regardless of the drive. Dick’s was on Leland Lake and we had 30 minutes of driving to kill. We pulled up to Dick’s and found a small one story diner that had been remodeled several times over the years. There is a famous photo of Jim playing pool in this place and these days there is no pool table to be found. The two lights with green domes still hang from the ceiling but a table top bar now sits under it for people to congregate. Hear heads hang on the wall. The bar has an art deco design from the 1920s or 30s. next to the bathroom entrance hangs the picture of Jim playing pool.
Its easy to see where the table once was and who knows why they decided to get rid of it. I ordered a blue cheese and bacon burger with Horny Monk beer from petosky while my wife ordered a salad. I would learn later that Dick’s was on its third generation of owner and that the people running it still knew who Jim was. Instead of talking to anyone we ate our meal, paid the tab, and left. Dick’s had a similar flare as the Dune Saloon with the taxidermy and old wooden bar, it was easy to see that this was the kind of place Jim would go to. In the corner of the place was the old wooden booth that the payphone would have been in.
We left Leland and went home. The day had been long and involved, and in the end, even Zoey was eager to be done with the day. You know you have done too much when a two year old feels like it had its butt kicked.
It was 2016 when I was half way through Jim Harrison’s collection of fiction. One night, while working second shift in a government job, I read the news on my phone, Jim Harrison was dead. I should have seen it coming. At his age it wasn’t to be unexpected that he would pass away. The River Swimmer was added to my list of read books on Goodreads the week before and I was then reading The Big Seven. With a pen in hand Jim was added to the long list of American writers we would no longer reap the benefits of.
Last year, 2018, my wife and I took a trip to Grand Marais where we quickly learned Jim owned a cabin for a good portion of his life. I sat at the bar of the Dune Saloon and noticed a picture on the wall. Jim was laughing or smiling and I pointed at the picturing asking the bartender, “is that Jim Harrison?” I was the only idiot in the room that didn’t know Jim lived in the area. This was common knowledge and to my dismay I had to acknowledge that although I had read a good portion of his work, unlike most of the people in the room that had known him personally, I didn’t know much about the man.
The few things I did know about where from his own books and things that I suspected were his own traits coming through in his characters. He enjoyed red wine, women, fishing, solitude, and dogs. Cigarettes were a must in life. A man of Michigan, the state that I grew up in and still live, was the setting for many of his tales. There appear to be several Michigans that one can know. There is the state in the southern region where poverty and crime are normal and we don’t have much pride in where we come from. Then there is the southern Michigan that has money and good jobs, that is able to enjoy the better things in life. There is country Michigan, where hunting and factory life is normal, Jesus is thanked every Sunday and you better own a truck. Then there is northern Michigan that is still a mystery to me. This is a place where English changes, time slows down, the weather is quick to winter and slow to spring, troubles are forgotten, and sleep is guaranteed.
I have seen very little of the northern part of my state. At the Dune Saloon, I was introduced to the 1970’s and 80 in a time capsule that had been locked away for forty years. A jukebox sat against the wall with music that had not been changed since 1986 and a pool table was waiting for a game to be played. The bathroom walls were covered in decades of people carving their names into the dried bone colored wood. Old barrels were being used as table tops and the brass bar running along the bottom of the bar was kept polished by the feet that rested on it every night. Jim came here often and I could imagine what things might have been like when he stopped in. as a writer, I know that very few people that I am close to will actually read anything that I write. No, the conversations would have been about other topics, the weather, best places for fly fishing, how to cook a perfect tenderloin, where is the best red wine from, or the legs of the Menonite girl that had walked by outside earlier that day. Jim was a normal guy and he wrote about normal guys.
The cabin that I had heard about was purchased and while I still drove out to see it that final hundred yards of the trail, I could not pass because of the no trespassing sign posted on a tree. I had to respect that while Jim once lived there it was no longer his place, and hell, he might not appreciate me stopping by if he still was there.
I should have trusted Jim’s taste on that trip. While my wife and I ventured around trying out different places to eat and drink, with crummy pasties polluting our pallets, the best food was found at the Dune Saloon on the last night we were in town. The view of Lake Superior was something that has to be experienced for oneself. The large polished rocks on the beach that is combed every morning by collectors and those who make money selling them to tourist, are something that I have never seen elsewhere. The sandy beaches of lake Michigan are littered with beach bunnies and over developed kids in bikinis leaving their trash for others to pick up long after they are gone. Lake Superior with the cool breeze blowing in from the north and the freighter ships dropping off ore in the distance was the complete opposite of its southern neighbor.
While I enjoyed Munising, the painted rocks national park, the breweries in the U.P. the quiet nights, and the laid back days, there was one thing that stuck with me. Who was Jim? What was the Michigan that he knew? Who was I as a writer and what could he teach me along the way? What the hell was this state that I was living in and why didn’t I know about it?
I learned about Jim’s house in Leland Michigan, how he had two daughters like me, and all the crazy friends he had. There was much more to see and experience from his world that still exist today. Those final years that he spent in Arizona he longed to be back in Michigan. His final books were set in the state and even he admitted that he was too old to enjoy the winters again or cross the trails that kept him whole. Now I am in Traverse City, following him again to learn what it was he enjoyed in life. I have a week and a list of places to go. Unless the gods roll their dice against me I should learn something along the way.
School day poems of John Milton. Written at the age of 16 years old, Milton showed promise of being a future poet. This section was found in volume 4.
On the morning of Christ Nativity brought me back to the things I needed to read for religion class. 13 years of religion class is difficult to forget and hearing those words again, regardless of their context, brought back memories from long ago. These days Christianity has a new meaning for me. The stories and mythology were finally explained to me as an adult and not an idiot for once. I don’t know why the church always treated people as if they were simple minded and couldn’t handle the meaning behind what was being said, it took a clinical psychologist to explain the old testament in a way that didn’t make it appear to be a huge pile of infantile crap wrapped in a diaper. So maybe there is something more out there then we could ever understand, things that science doesn’t have answers for. Milton had a talent for poetry, a skill he clearly worked at. Some would say that he was blessed and that the talent came from somewhere else, I would like to think he had the skill and focus to improve something he enjoyed.