Posts Tagged ‘Norman Maclean’

Morning River Mystique

July 26, 2018

 

When the early morning light quietly grows above the mountains . . . We are too late for the gods and too early for Being. Being’s poem, just begun, is man.

To think is to confine yourself to a single thought that one day stands still like a star in the world’s sky.

Martin Heidegger, “The Thinker as Poet”

riverbend

View from Brookie Cabin

July 26, 2018

The fifty-two degree Colorado morning was a chilly one with all the cabin windows open and the mountain breezes coming through. I rose at 6:56, showered, made French press coffee (pinon blend tastes so delicious in the mountain air), and prepared a three-egg omelet with asparagus, red pepper, onion, bacon jerky and shredded mozzarella. At 7:56, with breakfast over, I stepped out onto the cabin deck to view the meadows separating my cabin from the stream. My eye was filled with delight, seeing that the grasses were artistically woven with contrasting strips of amber sunlight and teal green shadows.  Beyond them, the stream laughed gently. I pulled on waders, boots, gravel guards and belt, then joined together my four-piece fly rod, attached the reel, and threaded my line through the guides.

rigging up

Tying on a Parachute Adams dry fly and attaching 18” of tippet with a Micro Mayfly nymph, I picked up my net and shoulder bag and hiked my way to the stream below.

fly

I felt the serenity I know all-too-well from reading Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River, Part II.” I could just as well have been Nick, happily hiking along the stream, surveying the flow and listening to the birds that filled the trees and bushes along the trail. Carefully stepping among the slick rocks in the stream bed, I slowly made my way out to where the water was flowing along a narrow channel between boulders and a fallen tree. Stripping the line from my reel, I flicked the dry fly and trailing nymph out into the current and watched it glide by as I mended my line and took out the slack. There seems to be a calming Zen rhythm to fly casting, and it didn’t take long for me to feel that I had meshed with the flow of the stream.

After a dozen casts, the dry fly suddenly disappeared beneath the surface and I hauled back sharply on the rod. The heavy throb at the end of the line indicated that a trout was on. He fled to the tree, and I managed to pull him away. Next he darted downstream, and I turned him back. As he rocketed out of the water, the sun reflected off the golden sides of a 12” brown trout, a nice sturdy one. Several somersaults later, he finally drew close enough for me to slip the net under him. I wet my hands, removed the barbless hook from his jaw, photographed him lying next to my flyrod, then gently placed him back into the water and watched him dart into the depths and disappear.

trout 2

The story would repeat about fifteen more times, with some of the trout escaping after a brief flourish, and one heavy one breaking my line as I tried unsuccessfully to keep him out of the fallen tree that was damming up the stream. Unfortunately, I never got to see him, as he stayed deep and pulled violently on my line. No matter. All of today’s trout were released and I took only memories from the stream.

trout

Three hours later, I decided the morning was spent. Selecting a large boulder, I sat down and drew out of my small shoulder bag a slim volume of Pre-Socratic fragments that I love translating from their original language. Selecting perhaps the oldest fragment of Western thinking, I translated a line from Anaximander, a sixth-century BCE thinker from the island of Samos:

From where things have their origin, they must also pass away, according to necessity. for they pay penalty for their injustices, according to the ordinance of time.

There will be plenty to unpack from this ancient oracle, but this morning, one particular idea stood out—the necessity that whatever comes into being will pass into oblivion. At age sixty-four, I think of this much more now than I did twenty years ago. I am grateful that I have been given the gift of appearing on the world’s stage to do my performance and then exit, hoping that what I leave behind will be more good than bad.

Every time I am given this precious gift of standing in a mountain stream on a chilly, sun-splashed morning at an altitude surpassing 8,000 feet, my mind returns to the reading of A River Runs Through It. One of my favorite passages involves the Reverend Maclean seated in the woods after fly fishing, and translating from his Greek New Testament the Prologue to the Gospel of John. I did this last week while seated in a lovely library at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.  For anyone not familiar with the New Testament text, I encourage you to meditate on it, particularly the first five verses. In A River Runs Through It, Reverend Maclean discusses with his elder son Norman the significance of the passage and how it can be related to the flowing mountain river and the eternal rocks beneath the surface. Every time I pause beside a mountain stream to read, or wade the channels in search of trout, I am struck by this thought of rocks from the basement of time lying quietly beneath the flowing, restless waters of the stream.

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. 

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Thanks for reading. My time in Colorado surpasses words to describe.

boulder

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Finding the Seam

May 27, 2014
Poured Watercolor of Myself Flyfishing in South Fork, Colorado

Poured Watercolor of Myself Fly Fishing in South Fork, Colorado

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.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The 2013-2014 academic year slides now into its twilight, and we spent the morning in my high school Philosophy class attempting to pull the drawstring on the bag containing the fragments of wisdom collected throughout the semester.  Norman Maclean and Henry David Thoreau have provided a framework for my current musings on a philosophical summation.

Sifting through the philosophical fragments of the Presocratics, we find two thinkers who fastened their outlook on opposite worldviews.  Heraclitus of Ephesus, arguing that one cannot set foot in the same river twice, concluded that the essential core of life is flux, or change.  Everything flows; nothing abides.  Parmenides of Elea, on the other hand, maintained that the core of life was stable, eternal, permanent; there is always Being.  A century later, Plato synthesized these thinkers, positing a world of appearances, physical, always changing, yet supported by a world of ideas, pure Being, eternal.  Throughout western history, thinkers wrestled with these two poles, seeking the seam that unites (or divides) them.

As a passionate fly fisherman, I think on these things nearly every time I enter a Colorado mountain stream.  As my eyes survey the waters, I eventually detect the seam dividing the swifter current from the deepening pools, and if I look long enough, I can see the rows of trout lining the seam, staying in the quiet waters while watching their food drift by on the flow.  I take delight in watching my dry fly drift down the current, close enough to the seam to entice a rainbow to rise.

Another seam, articulated by Mclean and Thoreau, divides the coursing waters above from the basement foundation of rock below. I love that metaphor of life as a river, surging and coursing, over the eternal, supporting foundation below.   Robert Henri in his celebrated book The Art Spirit, has struck a similar chord repeatedly in his remarks, dividing surface appearances from deep realities:

There is an undercurrent, the real life, beneath all appearances everywhere.

In these times there is a powerful demarcation between the surface and the deep currents of human development.  Events and upheavals, which seem more profound than they really are, are happening on the surface.  But there is another and deeper change in progress.  It is of long, steady persistent growth, very little affected and not at all disturbed by surface conditions.  

There is so much truth to mine from these literary musings of great minds from the past.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.