Jasper and I just got off of the Middle Fork. Well…maybe it was last Friday. But, it has taken me this long to get unpacked, get back into the work groove, get Jasper into the doctor for a diagnosis of asthma, and stock the fridge with the gallon of milk per day he seems to require in this heat. We had a great trip. The Middle Fork is a magical place. There are side creeks, huge ponderosa pines, hot springs, sandy beaches….and the company was sublime. The Middle Fork was the last river that Jim rowed in the summer before he died. He did it twice. Once with stinky boys, once with family and friends. I knew it would be an emotional trip….and I did cry. But….I was surprised by what my grief was about.
Jim and I spent 2 summers before kids as river guides. I figured the kids would have to be at least 10 before we could think about taking them boating. I met another family that had started taking their twins at age 4. Emboldened by their advice, and the promise of boats and their assistance, we applied for a Middle Fork permit the year Jasper got out of diapers. I got one. We went late in the season. We cut the trip short by only floating the first 38 of 99 miles and flying out at Indian Creek. We took two layover days. Our kids lived in sleeping bags and ploypro by night. Wake up call was being scooped up, sleeping bag and all, and being plopped into a lawn chair with hot cocoa. Sunscreen, life jackets, and swimsuits worn by day. Sticks, rocks, water, and older kids were all that were necessary. We did the Owyhee the next summer….and I pulled a Middle Fork permit the next. We repeated the adventure…Jasper now 6, Emerald aged 9. The kids were not impressed. When asked to write a “paper” on the best part of his summer, Jasper shared, “I got to do gymnastics.” We finally bought our own boat(s). We packed our own gear, and food. We pulled Middle Fork permits and decided to row the whole thing. One layover day was enough. The twins grew up and moved on, their parents divorced. We found new boating friends. The river group grew…got too big, and fragmented. New groups formed. And the kids grew.
Sleeping bags and cocoa gave way to down jackets, tea and cocoa puffs.
We started bringing other kids, other families.
We taught the kids to row.
My tears on this trip were bittersweet. Sure…I missed Jim. But I mostly missed my little kids. When they were younger, I wondered if they would view these trips as some sort of forced march, go to live in the city, and never look back. Now I know that free-flowing rivers are in their blood. They are not young anymore. Emerald was cutting trees out of backcountry trails in the headwaters of her favorite rivers, and could not join us this year. She will be leading her own Lower Salmon trip later this month while Jasper and I head to OR for summer registration. Next year, Jasper will be old enough to apply for his own Middle Fork permit. If he gets one, I hope he invites me. I missed their younger days, but I am so proud of who they are, and who they are becoming. Jim would have been so proud….and I did get to bring Jasper hot cocoa in bed. How else to wake up a sleeping teenager at dawn?