I think it safe to say that anyone who fly fishes is aware of the story “A River Runs Through It” from the novella of the same name by Norman Maclean, first published in May of 1976, and later made into the film, released on Oct. 9, 1992.
It’s a good thing, because anyone who fly fishes should know about that beautiful and haunting tale of brothers, family, love and loss – and how uplifting, confusing and heartbreaking it all can be.
Norman Maclean and I first crossed paths in the summer of 1983 – and I don’t mean literally – I mean that was when I first read ‘A River Runs Thought It.’
It was vivid and memorable, my first reading of this story.
I was in the last summer before my last semester of college, and anyone who has gone to college knows that feeling – it’s one of great expectation and fear of a coming unknown.
I say it was the summer of the end of my college days because, well, I had a lot of fun in college, so I needed nine semesters to graduate instead of the usual eight.
But back to Mr. Maclean and his story…
I was sitting on my bed reading.
My bed was a mattress – no box spring – on the floor jammed into in the corner of my room – somewhat typical of off campus living for college kids in those days.
It was a Pennsylvania summer mid-afternoon, hot, humid and my discovery through this book was as much an awakening as it was entertaining.
I had not yet fly fished, though I wanted to, and would, eventually as often as I could.
What made me most excited about the reading of ‘A River Runs Through It” was Norman’s brother, Paul, choosing journalism as an occupation.
That was my field of study, and I would go on to spend more than 30 years in that profession working as a photographer, an outdoor writer and writer of sports and feature stories, managing editor and a publisher.
What struck me so vividly that summer afternoon so many years ago, was, and I paraphrase here, Paul, Norman’s brother, choose journalism because it was an occupation that would not interfere with his fly fishing life.
I remember reading this passage in the novella and stopping and saying to myself, “Maybe I’m on to something here.”
What struck me then, and has only deepened with time, was the often difficult relationship Norman had with his hard-living, stubborn, but loveable journalist and fly-fishing brother.
As of this writing, I can say I have read the story many, many times, and have immensely enjoyed the beautifully written and photographed movie.
What makes it even more poignant now is what I have lost two brothers in this life time – my oldest in a car accident on Christmas day in 1985, and my younger brother to an accidental overdose of prescription medications three years ago on Oct. 5.
I miss them both, terribly at times, but experiencing the story of a River Runs Through It helps me with their loss – whether I read the story or watch the film.
Neither of my brothers were fly fishermen, but that really does not matter.
Time has lightened the load of their loss, but I still miss them, greatly.
I wish I could take them fly fishing with me, catch a few fish, and talk mostly.
I will in the next life – on a different river of time and experience.
Maybe I’ll see you out on the water.