Seeley Lake in Montana. (John Maclean) Lake in Seeley Lake in Montana. (John Maclean). (John Maclean)

By  Nick EhliJune 3, 2021

If you’re expecting an unbiased take on anything to do with “A River Runs Through It,” I should disclose that my son’s middle name is “Maclean.” This is not some cute happenstance. We named him after the author whose novella about fly-fishing and Montana transformed both.

To me, Norman Maclean’s book, more poetry than narrative, is a triumph of American literature. Only my wife’s good sense kept his surname from higher billing on the boy’s birth certificate.

His son, John N. Maclean, is also an author, and his latest book, “Home Waters,” is a lyrical companion to his father’s classic, chronicling their family’s history and bond with Montana’s Blackfoot River. His storytelling — from the fishing with his dad to the life and death of his Uncle Paul — is reliable, elegant and charming.

After a 30-year career as a journalist, mostly as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in D.C., the younger Maclean took to writing well-received nonfiction about wildfires in the American West. He hadn’t considered a family memoir.

Then, he caught a big trout — a really big trout — while fishing a stretch of the Blackfoot that his father memorialized in “A River Runs Through It,” published in 1976. He wrote about that fish, “the fish of a lifetime,” he called it, for a local club of anglers, and then, with some prodding, expanded the tale for a regional magazine. That was the end of it, he thought, until a couple years later when an editor unearthed the magazine article while on vacation in Montana. Did Maclean want to write a book?

“I thought this was going to be a big fish story, but then it turned into something very different,” says Maclean, now 78. “I don’t call it a memoir. I call it a chronicle. A memoir is about you, and this isn’t all about me.”

Indeed, “Home Waters” is about geology and glaciers and the forming of a river. It’s about history and Meriwether Lewis and how larch trees grew to be giants. It’s about nostalgia and cross-country car rides to a family cabin by Seeley Lake in Montana and how generations of Macleans became tied to a place. There’s also a fair bit about trout and his famous father’s book.

The author fishing the upper Blackfoot River. (Alec Underwood)

“I do not fish alone on the Blackfoot River, ever,” Maclean writes, “even though now I mostly fish by myself. When I’m on the water, and especially when no one else is around, I feel the presence of generations of my family whose stories run through it.”

Image without a caption
(Custom House)

Maclean’s writing is often intimate. Family lore, told and retold, can be a fuzzy thing, but some memories about his father, like their first time fishing together, remained spectacularly vivid and personal.

“I could not write it,” Maclean says of that childhood outing. “It was just too much. Too overpowering. But when I got to a place in ‘Home Waters’ where it was appropriate, I knew I had to do it.”

“Home Waters” was not meant as a “conscious parallel” to his father’s literary achievement, Maclean says, but we do learn more about the characters and stories that made “A River Runs Through It” so splendid. After reading an early version of “Home Waters,” a friend told Maclean, “You’ve written the backstory to ‘A River Runs Through It.’ ”

“I said, ‘I’ve done what?’ I almost fell off my chair.”

“Home Waters,” though, stands nicely on its own.

Fans of “A River Runs Through It,” and particularly those of the movie adaptation, will find intrigue in Maclean’s investigation into the death of his uncle. In the film, Paul — played by a young Brad Pitt — is beaten to death in Montana. In reality, he was murdered in a Chicago alley, and, although conspiracy theories abound, the circumstances remain a mystery.

“I wanted to straighten people out,” Maclean says.

Maclean concedes that his father’s book is “more consistently poetic” than his own, but he makes no apologies, noting that the older Maclean was a renowned English professor at the University of Chicago.

“I didn’t spend my career teaching Shakespeare and Wordsworth,” he says. “I spent my career writing hard news. That’s me.”

While Maclean’s journalistic prose is sharp and concise, it can also be beautiful. In one instance, he describes coming upon his father as daylight faded on the Blackfoot.

“He stood there next to the river, framed by bluffs and mountains to either side and the river running through them,” he writes, “and with his arms outstretched he gazed upward at the sunset with that open, ecstatic expression on his face that arose only in moments of greatest joy. He stood like that for minutes.”

When “A River Runs Through It” was published 45 years ago, the Blackfoot River was a polluted mess and a lousy spot to fish. The book — and certainly the film in 1992 — brought celebrity status to the river, and conservation efforts brought its restoration. “It’s better now than anything I remember from when I was a kid,” Maclean says.

The river’s prominence and renewal, though, have created contemporary challenges. “Fisherfolk,” Maclean writes, “dressed in fresh-from-the-box Stetson hats and vests” crowded onto Montana rivers, and “the Blackfoot River became a heavily trafficked ‘must’ stop.” The pandemic has hastened that spectacle. Celebrity, even for a river, has its price.

“There is trouble on the river now because it is overused and nothing is being done to sensibly restrict its use,” Maclean says. “But I’m hoping that ‘Home Waters’ contributes toward the general movement to try to do something. Otherwise, we will love it to death.”

Nick Ehli, a freelance writer and former editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, teaches in the Honors College at Montana State University.

más belleza de Nuevo México el Norte ~ Musings from the border lands ~ Eric Ming


Along northern 285. Still up on Plateau at 8000 feet as things are building in the Tusas

Fairly common evening light from Tres Piedras. This was a few days ago without the fire smoke. I’ll find out tomorrow what changes the fire might be making when I’m back at the cloud institute resuming my studies on the Taos Plateau

Crēdito total, Eric MIng

Eric is the rŌbert New Mexico corespondent and life adventurer



His engravings, produced as Japan was opening up to the West, capture the final moments of a society closed off from the outside world.

WordsHenri Robert

Yoshu Chikanobu – “Comparison of Famous Sites and Beautiful Women: Suzumegaura, Musashi Province, undated” (c. 1897-1898)

When the 122nd Emperor of Japan ascended to the throne, Yoshu Chikanobu was 30 years of age. His career as an artist was therefore put on hold by the Boshin War and he was captured after the Battle of Hakodate. Despite having been trained in martial arts in his youth, it was his artistic talents that led to him being quickly released, as his reputation accelerated the proceedings. In 2006, author Bruce Coats looked back at Yoshu Chikanobu’s fascinating body of work and its context in the book Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints.

Yoshu Chikanobu’s artistic exploits began with him receiving training in painting at the Kano School. He then went on to study engraving alongside Keisai Eisen and Utagawa Kuniyoshi, before joining Utagawa Kunisada I’s studio. As Bruce Coats explains, the artist, born in 1838, started out working in the Kunisada style, before straying from it. ‘Over time Chikanobu’s women become taller, thinner and more graceful in their gestures, establishing a new canon of beauty for the mid-Meiji period that reflected a revival of interest in prints of a hundred years earlier.‘

Culture and combat

Yoshu Chikanobu’s work is marked by its relationship with time, and his sense of nostalgia for a bygone era, one during which he saw the country open up to the West. His woodblock prints, which also take the form of diptychs and triptychs, are dedicated to traditional subjects and portraits, and address aspects of Japanese culture that were dying out at the time. They present samurai and a number of heroic female figures, looking back to the past. This sense of nostalgia is particularly illustrated in the series Chiyoda Inner Palace (1895-1897), which depicts women’s existence inside Edo Castle prior to the Meiji restoration in 1868, when the palace housed the shogun and his court before they were driven out. In Chiyoda Outer Palace: Sanno Festival (1897), the artist focuses on the float procession, banners, musicians, and groups dressed in special costumes heading to the Hie-jinja shrine at Edo Castle.

Some of Yoshu Chikanobu’s work is centred on historical themes, such as the Satsuma Rebellion (1877) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). Bruce A. Coats’ book is the first monograph about the artist to be written in English and illustrates a key period in Japanese history that triggered the westernisation of the country and the consequences of this on the lifestyles of the residents.

Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints (2006), a book by Bruce A. Coats, is published by Hotei Publishing.

Yoshu Chikanobu – ‘Chiyoda Inner Palace: Evacuation’ (1895-1897)

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Django relaxing with his new Target fan


Those hot afternoons and evenings of summer are a bitch on a Lab .. So he spends most of his inside time in the library with the Buddhists, the haiku masters, Bukowski, Latino writers and occasionally the Beats … naturally in front of his fan.

The Mozart of Fly Casting ~ NYT ~ reposted cause it’s so cool


Maxine McCormick began fly casting when she was 9 years old. At 14, she has back-to-back world titles.
Maxine McCormick, 14, before participating in the national casting championships last month. Credit Joshua Lott for The New York Times

By Shelby Pope

As the competitors in the 2016 Flycasting World Championships arrived at their hotel in Nelijarve, Estonia, some noticed a 12-year-old girl jumping on the hotel’s trampoline.

The girl, Maxine McCormick of San Francisco, was not a tourist. She was their competition.

Maxine was competing in four events in the biennial championships of this niche sport, in which the world’s best handlers of flies and rods test their skills in a series of accuracy and distance competitions. Maxine, instead of tinkering with her equipment ahead of the competition or fretting over the wind, spent most of her time on the trampoline, jumping or lying down and reading on it. Once, she fell asleep.

Then she trounced every other woman in the competition’s most popular event, trout accuracy, in which competitors cast into a series of rings. Her score was also higher than those of all the men except one: her coach, Chris Korich. She placed third in the salmon distance event, using back muscles honed by hours of tree climbing to propel her line 127 feet.

“She’s the most efficient fly caster on the planet,” said Korich, who has been coaching Maxine since 2013. “I don’t know anyone in history that can claim to be better.”

In the five years since Maxine began fly casting — which she describes as “fly fishing without the fish” — she has become the sport’s youngest champion. And this weekend, at 14, she defended her accuracy title at the world championships in England with a score of 52 in the women’s division — 21 points clear of the second-place finisher. She also won the salmon distance category.

Maxine competing at the national championships. Credit Joshua Lott for The New York Times

“I never knew I would become this good at anything,” Maxine said in a recent interview.

Anita Strand, the nine-time world champion caster from Norway who took silver in the 2016 accuracy event, recalled watching in awe as Maxine pivoted between two existences — world champion fly caster and child.

Now, she is no longer the tiny girl on the trampoline. She’s a teenager, taller and stronger, favoring fashionable clothing instead of the utilitarian outfits of most of her competitors. At practice, she’s focused and quiet, and when she starts casting, her dark eyes narrow to a frown as she attacks her target.

Maxine’s speedy journey to casting supremacy began when her father, Glenn McCormick, took her to the Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club in San Francisco in 2013. Like most people who come to the club’s pools, he simply wanted to become a better fisherman.

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