Rites of Passage

Rites of Passage
In many indigenous cultures there is a rite of passage as a boy starts to become a young man.  While our family doesn’t have a specific age or set of rituals to mark that transition, our recent trip on the South Fork of the Snake embodied that shift in our son.  Hudson turned nine years old this summer and is moving from a boy who has needed parental support, to a young man who is earning more independence.  We hope that long memorable trips in the outdoors will serve as sign posts to mark his growth and development for the rest of his life.

 The South Fork of the Snake River flows for 66 miles across southeastern Idaho, and just downstream of Conant it enters a scenic canyon.  Over our five day float through this canyon I witnessed a transformation in my son that has been steadily coming. To anglers, the South Fork is a special river with great fishing, prolific hatches and beautiful campsites. We saw eagles and osprey fishing the river, clouds of stoneflies, golden stones, and PMDs emerging, deer wandering the banks and many heron and cranes tucked into side channels.  Each night we picked out constellations and watched the moon get bigger. Now, the South Fork is more than a special river, it’s a window, framing the confluence of Hudson’s childhood.  

Self Confidence - One of my favorite parts of the South Fork is standing on a gravel bar fishing a salmonfly with a PMD emerger off the edge and waiting for a cutthroat to slowly rise from the depths to take my fly.  I often lose track of time and realize that I’ve been fishing in a spot for so long that I have to hurry downriver to make it to my next camp.  What made this trip different is that Hudson was equally excited to fish the gravel bars and armed with his 8’6” 5wt he marched to all the right spots and picked his own flies based on what he was seeing in the air.  He’s a big fan of the red and gold hotwire prince nymph behind the biggest and ugliest stonefly that he can find.  I spent a good amount of time just standing back and watching him cast and then cry out in frustration when he missed a fish.  

Capability - On day two of our float Hudson asked me if he could row the boat. In the past that meant a couple of minutes sitting in my lap, helping me row.  This trip was different because he wanted to be the captain.  As I pushed us into the current I wondered about the endurance of his interest and physical abilities. Instead, I was humbled. Hudson rowed seven miles that day. He navigated wind, strong eddy lines, other guide boats, and set me up perfectly to fish the bank. I was blown away by his competence and the juxtaposition of his ability and innocence, as he sang made up songs to himself, and did a damn fine job of taking us down the river.  He can be my guide anyday!

Independence - Camping on water with a child can be daunting.  We struggle to balance all the associated worries while also setting up camp, cooking dinner, tending to the boat, monitoring s’more consumption, enforcing bedtime, etc.  However, something was different for Hudson on this trip.  We would pull up to shore and as I was unloading the boat Hud was off-in-a-flash to find a flat spot for the tent.  By the time I was done getting everything ashore, Hudson had the tent set up and was swinging away in the hammock.   He took initiative to help with the hard work every day, without being reminded or nagged, and it blew my mind.  

Problem Solving - I have renewed appreciation for how  Hudson is simultaneously capable of so many grown-up things while still maintaining his childhood innocence.  On our layover day, he built a fort on the riverbank complete with an entrance, a living room, a tile floor made of river rocks and a place to hide in the event of an attack. A younger Huddie would have largely made this fort in his imagination, but this time, his newfound knot-tying skills and safe use of a bow saw enabled him to construct a fine structure. There were a few times when he asked for help, but on the whole he figured it out himself. Ultimately, we were equally proud of the final product, although for poignantly different reasons.   

In the blink of an eye, nine years have flown by.  We don’t know where Hud will go after high school, or what profession will intrigue him.  As parents, we define “success” as raising a person who is kind to others, who challenges himself intellectually, who works hard and revels in the results, who braves challenges and navigates set-backs, and who can find happiness and gratitude throughout it all.  In the meantime, I will cherish this precious time, when he is becoming more capable and still wants to spend a week on the river with his dad.