When I was a driver / guide in the park, guests would often ask “how did you end up in Yellowstone?” They would remark how New York seemed a mighty contrast and distance from Wyoming and Montana. My common reply was “Robert Redford.” I'd get quizzical looks, puzzled expressions most of the time. Occasionally someone would ask which of his movies inspired me to go west.
It was, without a doubt, A River Runs Through It. I clearly remember seeing that film in a small independent movie theater and walking out afterward feeling changed. Right then and there, I knew that one day I would have to see Montana. The rivers, the mountains, the green rolling foothills. The quaint small towns, the salt-of-the-Earth type people, and the respect and admiration for nature that is portrayed in that film planted a seed that would bring me to the Rocky Mountain west seven years later. I would fall in love with the town of Livingston where some of that movie was filmed. I would meet people who had met Mr. Redford, sold him props or costumes, took photos of the production and displayed them in a local sandwich shop for sale. Eventually, I lived there and bought a home there. I have always understood and appreciated the draw to nature and the serenity it can provide. But not until I came to Yellowstone sixteen years ago and explored this amazingly beautiful part of our world did I truly realize the magnitude of how much rivers, rocks, sunshine, trees - and solitude among them – mean to me. How intrinsic it is to my soul to take in such scenery and quietude.
I watched this movie again a few nights ago for the first time in years, and its importance resounded with me again. I have tears in my eyes typing this.
Once while staying in Moab, Utah, I heard an NPR interview with Robert Redford. He told the interviewer he had picked up the book, written by Norman Maclean, and read the first line which is “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” He said he immediately flipped to the back of the book and read the last line which is “I am haunted by waters.” He realized quickly that even though he didn't yet know what happens between the first line and the last, he wanted to make it into a movie. Thank goodness he did.
The movie inspired me as does the soundtrack. I bought it in Utah and remember sitting in my car in the dark, on a stretch of two-lane highway outside Springdale, Utah near Zion National Park, listening to it while looking up at the stars. Coincidentally, that spot was not far from the ghost town where parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed.
If I ever have the good fortune to meet Robert Redford, I will be sure to tell him that his work has touched and influenced my life. Amazing what a good film can do. His narration is spot on as well. He could be reading the ingredients on a soup can, and it would be worthwhile listening.