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On The Fly

The master in The Art of Living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

—Francois Rene Chateaubriand


Norman Maclean was born in Iowa and raised in Montana. He was a professor of English, a poet, and a fly fisherman.  Known best for his semi-autobiographical novella, A River Runs Through Itwhich was adapted into a film in 1992;  a film that saw millions exposed to the graceful, silent art of fly fishing. But Maclean, like most great writers, spoke in metaphor; of the words and meanings that lie beneath the subject matter and the characters. Fly fishing was simply a conveyance, a means to an end, a way to capture attention while another story was being told around and under the words. My fly fishing mentor, Clyde Ritchie, shared a book with me early in my fly fishing experience by Canadian-born author, Roderick Haig-Brown, entitled A River Never SleepsFrom his writing I discovered Norman Maclean and a world with dew still on it.  I will forever be indebted to each of these men for sharing their vision. Here are some of my favorite quotes from Norman Fitzroy Maclean:

“One of life’s quiet excitements is to stand somewhat apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful even if it is only a floating ash.”

“All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.”

“My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him all good things-trout as well as eternal salvation-come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”

“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.”

“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? 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 is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

“I had as yet no notion that life every now and then becomes literature—not for long, of course, but long enough to be what we best remember, and often enough so that what we eventually come to mean by life are those moments when life, instead of going sideways, backwards, forward, or nowhere at all, lines out straight, tense and inevitable, with a complication, climax, and, given some luck, a purgation, as if life had been made and not happened.”

“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.”



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