Just now, I was taping up a box of books and spotted my copy of A River Runs Through It. It’s one of my favorite books, and I read it for the first time (the whole thing in one sitting, on a wicker sofa on a screened-in porch on Nantucket) in September 1992. The movie came out the following month.
When I pulled the book from the box and opened the front cover, a folded piece of paper fell into my lap. What was typed on the half-sheet (yes, typed – on a typewriter, kiddos) was something I had forgotten and hadn’t laid eyes on in years, a bit of prose that I wrote around the same time as I read that book. Or maybe a few months later, the first time I moved away from Connecticut (which, among the places I’ve lived, is still my favorite).
Even as I itched to edit the passage, it let me look, through a telescope of words, as far back as 17 years. You might remember my mention of an atlas that I’ve kept for years, all marked up and dog-eared, stained with coffee and memory. Well, before that one, there was another.
She started to throw her atlas into her bag along with the other books she’d taken along on her trip, then stopped. She ran her fingers over its faded and worn cover, then let it fall open. She stared at the map of Connecticut for a long time, minutes. The names of towns were circled, certain routes were highlighted, directions were scrawled into the margins. and as she stared, the pages became something, something created by her, a story only she could tell. The dots for the towns became churches and houses and shops. The blue lines and lakes became drives to the reservoir and dives off the rocks into the river. The shore became waves and moonlight and storms and children laughing on the swingsets. And the lines became journeys to a thousand different places on a thousand different days. And all of these became journeys to places inside her, some which had no end or destination, and it suddenly became a picture. No, many pictures. Each with its own story, its own beginning, its own lesson. The pictures became a lifetime, and this lifetime was hers.
Okay, so it’s just a silly bit of writing, and I don’t remember why I tucked the paper inside the book, but when I read it again, it felt as much like a snapshot as anything. Of what I knew I would miss, or did already. Of what places and roads meant to me. Big surprise, right?
I was glad to find the book, too. A couple of days ago, I talked Hunter into watching the movie (didn’t take that much convincing). He loves to fish, and liked the movie as much as I thought he would. And he wants to learn to fly fish (me, too).
I’ll leave you with these beautiful words from Norman Maclean. (It can’t hurt to imagine Robert Redford’s voice reading them, as he does in the movie…though, really, it never hurts to imagine Robert Redford’s voice, period.)
As for that piece of paper, I left it where I found it, next to words that, so many years ago, left a mark on my soul. Like a river, yes, or maybe a road.
Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then 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 the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.