My friend Eric died two years ago today. He was an artist of the highest caliber, a landscape photographer of storms and tornadoes whose work endures in galleries, books, magazines, and most of all in the imaginations of those whose conception of the natural world was changed by his imagery. For those of us lucky enough to know him well, he was a terrific friend.
One of the last times we hung out, at my old house on Jasmine Street in Denton, we'd been drinking wine and talking about a December trip to Rome and Florence when Eric grew restless and wanted to walk around the block. I didn't know at the time that a new medicine he was taking gave him bursts of energy, and I was tired from a big Italian meal earlier that night with our friend and fellow chaser Robert Hall. The wine made me drowsy and unenthusiastic about the August heat. But Eric insisted and so we set out to parallel the railroad tracks along Jasmine, turned up Highland Avenue and back down Wisteria, pausing at the corner under a street lamp to examine some bugs and give the yapping dog across the street a long look at us.
This was the first week of August 2007. I was about to quit my job in a few days, resign my teaching post to spend the upcoming academic year finishing a novel and writing some nonfiction. I worried about the decision. I also thought, in those days, that I was supposed to move to New York City in order to sell a book. Networking, I thought. All this was on my mind as Eric and I continued down the street, a slight breeze from an open field offering the only relief from the humidity, and he asked about my plans, what I envisioned for the distant future rather than the more immediate changes I'd discussed with him for weeks. When was I was going to make time for a family? I didn't have good answers for him.
It wasn't small talk; Eric wasn't very good at that kind of chatter. But nor was it his habit to engage in deeply personal conversations and stay with them. There was something else going on. I can't say what my friend imagined for himself that night, about two weeks before his hospitalization and almost a month to the day before we lost him, but looking back on it now his words rang of some solemn foreknowledge, an attempt to put things in order. And if he had some notion of his own troubles which lie ahead, then the way he steered our conversation, about my plans, and how he asked if we could make a second lap after we'd finished the first, or follow the railroad tracks into the night so we could keep talking, is why I tell people he was one of the most generous spirits I've ever known.