Driving north from Tucson towards Santa Fe, and then home to northern Michigan, I got to thinking about my side trip to Patagonia earlier in the week. Not the Patagonia that dead-ends at the bottom of South America, this is the Patagonia that dead-ends at the bottom of North America at the Mexican border in Arizona. I had gone there one before maybe 10, or 15, or 20 years ago because it just sounded like a cool place to go. I wasn’t disappointed. I remember driving through some beautiful rolling desert before coming into this small oasis of colorful, funky, old buildings with a boulevard separating them…a real boulevard of dreams. If I could ever be enchanted, I was. Returning now, I was pleased that nothing had changed except that the neat B&B that had been there and managed by a happy couple from Chicago, was now a real estate office. You wonder what happened. Did somebody die? Did one of them have an affair and get a divorce? You wonder, or at least I do.
And so, I parked the rental at the shaded town square on the boulevard, got out and took a long look around. Quite a few people actually. Organic people. Aging hippies, artists, writers, flower seniors? And mixed in, young hippies, artists, writers, you know the type…flimsy cotton halter tops, Birkies, tattoos, braided hair.
The truth is, I had a hidden agenda. I knew the great one lived here, or near here for part of the year- the rest being spent in Montana. Of course even though I didn’t know him – never met him – I was still miffed that he left Northern Michigan. Hemingway did the same and never came back. They had, in my view, things in common. There last name started with H…Harrison and Hemingway, they had similar lifestyles – food, wine, women, and bars & saloons where they would knock back legendary amounts of Amber. And they were both a bit crusty, profane, and liked to be with pals. But most of all, they wrote truly. True sentences, stories about real people even if they were fictional. They wrote about Northern Michigan and then. they left. And even though Harrison was a writer AND a poet, some of the writing of Hemingway was poetic if not poetry.
But Harrison had outlived Hemingway. Not hard to do really as long as you have the sense not to put a 12 gauge in your mouth and pull the trigger at age 59. And I heard he was here…in Patagonia. so I was mildly determined to bump into the great oracle of Literature, Jim Harrison. I read his books and they were good. He made me feel as if I were in the same room with the characters he wrote about. As if I were a part of their sad-ass lives and loves. And maybe I was.
I went into the new market…Organic, everything…and expensive. I think organic is over rated. I’ve been eating chemically treated produce and eggs and meat and fish and whatever for a long time. I drink a ton of whiskey every day. Very little is organic…except maybe the whiskey because it is distilled in Canada which tends to be liberal and…organic. There were some really hot women in the market, you know the type, I described them above. I got the feeling that no one here would know Jim Harrison as much as they would know Andrew Weill or San jay Gupta. I left and wandered down to the local coffee house. I ordered a coffee and a kick ass Pecan bar and asked the barista if he knew where I could find Jim Harrison. He knew about the great one but not where to find him and before I could stop him, grabbed a phone book and thumbed through the H’s only to find…nothing but that isn’t surprising. Putting away the book, he said vaguely that he thought he hung out at the Saloon, another no surprise.
The gallery next door was filled with local artist product and some really good stuff. I bought a green leather journal to go with all my other writer looking journals. While paying I asked about Jim Harrison. The woman promptly responded that he could be found at the Wagon Wheel Saloon at 4:15 and then corrected herself “On Friday”. It was Wednesday. “I can tell you how to get there if you like’. I said “no…intruding without notice isn’t my style”.
At the Patagonia Tourist office I asked the the old girl who sitting up front where I could find Jim Harrison. She thought a minute and said “probably the Wagon Wheel Saloon” and then “ you know that he was named the greatest writer in America by the Book Society something or other”. I replied that I didn’t know that but that I wouldn’t be surprised.
And so it went. Everyone knew about the writer King but the only thing they were sure of was that he could be found at the Wagon Wheel Saloon. I had to go but would have liked to stay. I would have liked to have “bumped” into him at the bar and asked to buy him a drink. And maybe we would have had another and another and around last call, go out into the cold Arizona night and laugh as we watered the cactus.
I would have liked that and I like to think he would have liked it too, and that maybe…he would share the secrets of his writing – the Arc of the Writers Covenant.