Every red-blooded Montanan I know claims the movie, A River Runs Through It, as one of their favorites. So do I. And no, it’s not just because Brad Pitt spends most of the movie in a river, soaking wet . . . Um, where was I again?
When it hit the big screen, I was a college student at the University of Montana in Missoula. Make no mistake, we were as proud of that movie as if we’d made it ourselves. In the theater, when scenes from campus filled the screen and Robert Redford’s narrator said, “The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana,” we’d whoop in solidarity.
The movie centers around the Blackfoot River, and while I never fished its waters, I rafted them. Including the time it was at flood stage. When a bloated cow’s carcass with its legs poking into the air sailed past us, my friend Colleen traded her paddle for a stiff round of Hail Mary’s. I didn’t tell my parents that story until I was safely out of college.
Years later, I still adore that movie. It’s the only one I own. (Kid’s movies don’t count.) If you’re not familiar, it’s the story of Norman Maclean, Presbyterian minister’s son, and brother to troubled Paul. In their family, there was “no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” While I’ve seen the movie too many times to count, I hadn’t read Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and Other Stories since my college days. I reread it just the other week. I also learned that he began writing fiction at age seventy. There’s hope for me, yet. Maclean’s words transported me to the Montana of my youth. Not that I was a fly fisherman, but we had a ranch, and a creek ran through it. (Pronounced crick in Montana.) The writing struck such a chord in me, not only for his gorgeous, poetic prose, but because of his ability to evoke the feelings I have for my home state.
Few people have the unbridled enthusiasm for their home like Montanans do. I’m right there with them, and I’m sure it’s one of my more annoying traits. I can’t even tell you why I feel this way. I’m crazy about my home in Colorado. It’s got all the beauty you could dream of, but the trappings of a major city, too. And the winters are much more reasonable. My grandpa used to say, “Montana has nine months of winter and three months of rough sleddin’.” Not here. You can golf and ski in the same day. Seriously, Colorado rocks.
But still, there’s something about Montana that will always call to me. I’m not sure if it’s the pull of home, or something deeper than that.
All I know is that no one captures it like Maclean.
In the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
Montanans, do you feel the same way about Maclean? If you hail from another state, what books evoke the pull of home for you?