"A River Runs Through It"
by Norman Mclean
- This extract comes toward the end
of this profoundly moving book which was made into a beautiful
film by Robert Redford.
A river, though, has so
many thing to say that it is hard to know what it says to each
of us. As we were packing our tackle and fish in the car, Paul
repeated, "Just give me three more years." At the time,
I was surprised at the repetition, but later I realized that
the river somewhere, sometime, must have told me, too, that he
would receive no such gift. For, when the police sergeant early
next May wakened me before daybreak, I rose and asked no questions.
Together we drove across the Continental Divide and down the
length of the Big Blackfoot River over forest floors yellow and
sometimes white with glacier lilies to tell my father and mother
that my brother had been beaten to death by the butt of a revolver
and his body dumped in an alley.
- My mother turned
and went to her bedroom where, in a house full of men and rods
and rifles, she had faced most of her great problems alone. She
was never to ask me a question about the man she loved most and
understood least. Perhaps she knew enough to know that for her
it was enough to have loved him. He was probably the only man
in the world who had held her in his arms and leaned back and
- When I finished
talking to my father, he asked, "Is there anything else
you can tell me?"
- Finally, I said,
"Nearly all the bones in his hand were broken."
- He almost reached
the door and then turned back for reassurance, "Are you
sure that the bones in his hand were broken?" he asked.
I repeated, "Nearly all the bones in his hand were broken."
"In which hand?" he asked. "In his right hand,"
- After my brother's
death, my father never walked very well again. He had to struggle
to lift his feet, and, when he did get them up, they came down
slightly out of control. From time to time Paul's right hand
had to be reaffirmed; then my father would shuffle away again.
He could not shuffle in a straight line from trying to lift his
feet. Like many Scottish ministers before him, he had to derive
what comfort he could from the faith that his son had died fighting.
- For some time,
though,he struggled for more to hold on to. "Are you sure
you have told me everything you know about his death?" he
asked. I said, "Everything." "It's not much, is
it? "No," I replied, "but you can love completely
without complete understanding." "That I have known
and preached," my father said.
- Once my father
came back with another question. "Do you think I could have
helped him?" he asked. Even if I might have thought longer,
I would have made the same answer. "Do you think I could
have helped him?" I answered. We stood waiting in deference
to each other. How can a question be answered that asks a lifetime
- After a long
time he came with something he must have wanted to ask from the
first "Do you think it was just a stickup and foolishly
he tried to fight his way out? You know what I mean--that it
wasn't connected with anything in his past."
- "The police
don't know," I said.
- "But do
you?" he asked, and I felt the implication.
- "I've said
I've told you all I know. If you push me far enough, all I really
know is that he was a fine fisherman."
- "You know
more than that," my father said. "He was beautiful."
- "Yes," I said,
"he was beautiful. He should have been---you taught him."
- My father looked at me for
a long time---he just looked at me. So this was the last he and
I ever said to each other about Paul's death.
- Now nearly
all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are
dead, but still I 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.
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
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