Sunday I decided to hike up Chief Joseph Mountain. To get there, you must ford at BC Creek. Sometimes this creek is a harmless murmur, easy to skip across. Other times it roars with snowmelt, raging down the mountain in malevolent white froth. In the winter it is a lumpy blanket of unstable ice with water trickling over the surface. Most of the time it is uncrossable.
I hoped to cross BC Ford because I had been turned back before. I crossed it once in fall, when the aspens glowed a luminescent yellow. I wanted to get higher up the mountain, to see it in winter.
Once I approached the ford, however, I could see that it would be a challenge. A smooth cape of ice covered the stream. Still, I thought I might be able to make it. I ventured out carefully. The other side was so close--if I could just get up my nerve and take those last few steps.
In the end I gave up, scampering to safety. I was alone and the ice was moody, shifting under my feet. It was hard to turn around.
As I hiked down I thought about letting go, both in wilderness and in life. For months I have been swimming for shore after a relationship suddenly capsized. A part of me wanted to stay out there, to keep trying, even after it was obvious that there would be no safe crossing. It's always hard to turn your back on something, whether it is love or a river. You remember the time you could cross, and you want it to be that way again.
But it never can be. Someday I will make it across BC Ford again and hike to the top of the mountain. It won't be the same as it was last time. The sun won't fall in the same way on the trees. The river might be a little higher, the trail harder to follow. It won't be the same. What is important is learning to appreciate the times you can cross, and letting go of the times you can't. It is a lesson I continue to learn.