Middle Fork Magic
Every once in a while, everything falls into place out on the river. Two weeks ago guiding was one of those trips - good weather warning towards fall, willing trout, a streamtech boat with boxtop oars. There was a crew I adored and shared launch date with Casey, meaning we got to boat together for twenty-five miles through some of our favorite rapids and camps. The guests were mellow and friendly and there are no bad camps on the Middle Fork... or so they say.
It's not always like that. I remind myself over and over. Don't forget the hard ones. Don't forget the exhaustion and the impossible decisions and the never-happy guests and all the forms of poop chaos...
Maybe that trip I forgot to put my guard up against that Middle Fork magic. Maybe it's the end-of-summer smoky full moon, reminding me of all the guiding seasons where there wasn't something to look ahead to. There used to be such an ache to this time of year and to those transitions. Maybe it's a part-time season - only six trips squeezed in here or there rather than the full fourteen.
I think I thought that maybe, almost a decade in, I'd gotten to a point where the river couldn't chew me up (in the good way) anymore. I thought I was too wise to let it get under my skin or let the end of a trip make me wistful. I'd be lying if I said a good one doesn't make me question everything all over again. Saying that makes me feel a bit foolish and young but I'm telling you because it's true.
Should I be back here full time? Why do I even use social media? WTF is the point of the internet? There are badass middle age ladies who still do this - I should still do this! This is the best job in the entire world, why would I do anything else? What am I scared of?
...It's not always like that.
It could be that this trip felt like an arrival. Casey and I have both worked hard on other rivers and this one to be in the spot where we both get to fish guide through the Frank Church Wilderness, together but apart. I've learned almost every lesson the hard way and next week will probably learn them again.
This is what we came for.
It's good the voice in your head says, but maybe still ephemeral.
The lesson of a river trip, those rare truly sweet ones, is that you can't hold on to moving water. When a good trip comes along - that potent mix of place and people and whereverthehell you are at in your life that moment - you just have to love it ferociously for eight days and then let it go. That kind of magic won't be replicated or held. So instead, I just look forward, trusting another good one will come along again and will be good for all the same and all different reasons.
As I wrapped up (what I thought would be) the final paragraph of this journal last week, a sad call came in from a friend here in Salmon. Eight days ago when I launched off the ramp at Boundary it was raining and I was raining too. Same canyon, different weather - I felt as heavy as my sixteen-foot boat.
I can't wait to just go work my ass off and not think, I told Casey sarcastically.
He laughed and pointed out that actually, that might feel kind of good.
These one-way river canyons have a way of scrubbing you clean. The best trips, the hard trips, it's all the same sequence, the Velvet Falls to Tappan Falls to Devil's Tooth with ten thousand rocks and five starry Idaho nights in between. I set my life against these places, letting the laughter and the grief deposit like sand and wash away in the next spring flood.
It's all magic, really.