A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean


This title is part of BHA's Jim Posewitz Digital Library: Required Reading for Conservationists


A River Runs Through It is a memoir of Maclean's adventures as a young man in the mountainous western Montana backcountry. Heralded as a classical American story, Maclean describes fly fishing on the Big Blackfoot River and working in the woods for the U.S. Forest Service. I originally read A River Runs Through It while fly fishing on an alpine backpacking trip in western Wyoming. After a day spent hiking and fishing, I would eagerly lay out my foam pad against the nearest lodgepole or spruce tree, reach into the top of my pack, and crack open the next chapter. 

As Maclean describes fly fishing, it becomes apparent that it's not fish he’s after but rather a deeper appreciation of wilderness. Through his escapades into wild spaces, Maclean gains a greater understanding of his own psyche. His motives for fly fishing mimic my own. Why would anyone willingly give up creature comforts in exchange for bug bites, long miles and bad weather without an ulterior motive? For me, just like the author, it is for the therapeutic clarity of uninterrupted wilderness. However, A River Runs Through It isn’t all serious self-reflection. The stories are lighthearted and witty. Some segments were so funny that I would read them aloud to my companions around the campfire, all of us howling with laughter.

Written with a wise and earthy prose, this memoir is well-suited to those who love wild spaces, rivers or fly fishing. An American classic and a perfect book matched with any outdoor setting, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It is sure to satisfy.

-JORDAN WOLF, member of the Minnesota BHA chapter. She is a third-year medical student at the University of Minnesota. In her free time, she enjoys backpacking, grouse hunting and fly fishing.


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