Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Norman

Click on photos for full size image.
Today is the birthday of Norman Maclean, the author of A River Runs Through it. Way back in the 80's, my big sister Nell, a long-time editor at the University of Chicago Press, and a sister who has done many good things for me, gave me a copy of the book. I wasn't fly fishing at the time, but I was missing the west. She thought I would like the book; I loved it.
Looking back, it was a bridge for me between my western boyhood and my current life in the west. His images--I could feel the heat of the mountain sun, smell the sharp scent of pine, and hear the rumble and ring of fast-flowing water--revived my memories of boyhood, gave a shape to my dreams, and provided signposts for my western journey.
It was a life-affirming story of a family--and especially two brothers--bonded by the act of fly fishing. It laid the foundation for the touchstone that fly fishing has become in my life.
I also take encouragement from the fact that Norman Maclean wrote the book when he was 70 years old. There may be something good in all of us just waiting for the time to write it down.
If you came to fly fishing because of the movie, do yourself a big favor. Read the book.

Norman Maclean teaching, University of Chicago, 1970.

From the Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of author Norman Maclean, (books by this author) born in Clarinda, Iowa (1902). He grew up in Montana. He taught English at the University of Chicago for many years, and built a cabin in Montana, near the Big Blackfoot River, and he spent every summer there.
After he retired from teaching, at the age of 70, he wrote his famous autobiographical novella, A River Runs Through It, which was published in 1976 by the University of Chicago Press. It was the first work of fiction the press ever published, and it was a huge best-seller and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
It begins: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman."

 The Maclean family, Norman and brother Paul.

 Norman Maclean, right, and friend George Croonenberghs, Diana Lake, Montana, 1949.
George tied flies for the Macleans, and was a technical advisor for the movie.

 The Big Blackfoot River, 1905.

The Big Blackfoot River, modern day.

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