Skip to content

Lessons From A River Runs Through It

January 8, 2021

As a fly fisherman, I have always enjoyed Norman Mclean’s book, “A River Runs Through It.” I also enjoyed the Robert Redford movie immensely as well. The two combined have provided me with many lessons to deal with my mid-life and senior years. They also served as an inspiration for my book, “The Blackest of Canyons and Other Micro Tales of Fly Fishing,”

Mclean’s tale is painted against a canvass of fly fishing in Missoula, Montana and provides the reader with a wealth of lessons and observations for dealing with life’s ambiguities and general unfairness. Here are several examples found as quotes in the book and movie:

From the book:

“The hardest thing usually to leave behind, as was the case now, can loosely be called the conscience.” That’s the starting point for all of life’s lessons. To truly learn these lessons we must first find our conscience.

From the book:

“At sunrise, everything is luminous but not clear” Very prophetic words indeed!

That is the initial challenge of every day we are on this earth; to see what is really in front of us as clearly as possible. It always reminds me of my time working in Hollywood, California. Luminous? Yes but very unclear!

From the book:

“Something within fishermen tries to make fishing into a world perfect and apart—I don’t know what it is or where, because sometimes it is in my arms and sometimes in my throat and sometimes nowhere in particular except somewhere deep. Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect.”

Many of us, myself included, have wasted valuable time waiting for the world around us to become more perfect. It ain’t ever going to happen so learn to deal with the imperfect world! (I have.)

From the early part of the movie:

“The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.”

That applies to many peoples’ thoughts as they struggle to understand those around them. These true words in any given geography serve to remind us that life can be unfair but we must deal with it and the people in it just the same.

From the movie’s middle section, the brothers discuss Jessie’s visiting obnoxious California brother:

“I asked, “Do you think you should help him?”
“Yes,” he said, “I thought we were going to.”
“How?” I asked.
“By taking him fishing with us.”
“I’ve just told you,” I said, “he doesn’t like to fish.”
“Maybe so,” my brother replied. “But maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.”

This illustrates a basic truism; all people want to be helped. It is often not the result but the effort that is sought and counts the most in the end.

Late in the movie, the Reverend Mclean states in a sermon:

“For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it’s those we live with and should know who elude us.”

While these words provide little comfort, they do provide a rationale for one of the biggest frustrations in life; not being able to help those we love. I have had great doses of this most of my life, with my son and many close friends. Fortunately my wife is the exception; we don’t elude each other in the slightest.

From late in the movie:

“We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.”

This is one of the very key lessons to be learned from Mclean’s work. It applies to all of us. Our inability to completely understand something or someone should not diminish our love for the same. Understanding and faith often don’t go hand in hand.

Of course, the final lesson may be drawn from the final lines in both the book and the movie:

“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.”

This is a powerful description of what we all seek but can rarely find; the true words and voices from our own world to guide and comfort us. To a fly fisherman and everyone else, the waters are life itself, For this fly fisherman, they do haunt indeed.

If you have not read this book or seen the Redford film, please give them both a try. You will be amazed at all of the subtilties that apply to your own life and the lessons that can be drawn from both. There are many humorous scenes as well. You certainly don’t have to be a fly fisherman to enjoy these. Likewise, I believe you will enjoy my book mentioned above as it also seeks to impart a few hard learned lessons from my own life. I guarantee you’ll like it! Tight lines!

Please follow this blog by clicking follow below. Your comments are always welcome.

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at

Read author Allen E Rizzi 3

  1. Loved the movie too

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great movie, but never read the book. It’s on my list now, thanks to you.

    Keep up the good work. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your best blog post ever. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw the movie when it came out in the early 90s. I was too young to appreciate the wisdom, just the stunning cinematography. Your post makes me want to read the book.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: