Salt Lake Tribune, The (UT) - June 2004

Section: Utah | Edition: Final | Page: B1 - Free spirits, wild rivers converge

by Tom Wharton

Every father thinks his daughter is special. I am no exception. My only daughter, Emma, always has been a one of a kind, the type of person not afraid of anything. She once worked with troubled youths in a lockup facility. She loves running big rapids as a whitewater river guide and spent a college summer learning Spanish in Guatemala.

Not content to receive a bachelor degree at the University of Utah, she spent hundreds of hours volunteering to earn a Service Learning Degree. Her mother and I often worried because she never held down a job for more than a few months. We shouldn't have. Emma has been hired for nearly every position she has ever wanted. The sheer force of her outgoing personality coupled with a magnetic smile always opened doors and melted hearts.

I marveled that my daughter could have so much fun on such a tight budget, driving her little red Subaru across the West and all the way to New York and Washington. She wasn't afraid to camp on the side of a road, backpack into a remote desert canyon or climb a cliff. A bumper sticker that read "All Who Wander Are Not Lost" pasted on her car for many years aptly described her attitude.

She has enjoyed a great 29 years, an existence that did not seem to require a husband or children. That did not bother me in the slightest because she was having so much fun that settling down did not seem to be an option.

That all changed this week.

If everything goes well -- and if the weather doesn't cooperate there is a fine chance it won't -- Emma should be Mrs. Dennis Smoldt by the time you read this. There are no guarantees, though, because Emma's wedding plan, like most of her life, is unorthodox.

Since Dennis is a river guide and the two met about four years ago while guiding for different whitewater companies in eastern Utah, Emma allowed herself to dream of being married on a river. So, our family and friends left for a five-day adventure on the Yampa River on Monday, while Dennis' group put in Tuesday at the Gates of Lodore on the Green.

I planned to give away my daughter Thursday morning at Echo Park, the beautiful place where the two rivers join, while wearing white cotton pants and a Hawaiian shirt. Emma assured me she would wear a wedding dress, though I always thought a white Speedo would have been more appropriate. Because I have written several checks to the seamstress, I believe she might actually wear a dress, something that hasn't happened often in her life.

In some ways, the trip will be bittersweet. The Yampa was the last river Emma and I traveled with her mother, who spent many of the last days of her life helping to plan this wedding. We planned to scatter rose petals from the funeral on the river at the end of the ceremony. Weddings are supposed to be a reflection of a couple, the joining of two families and a religious experience.

I am sure that will be especially true for this wedding as two river guides, both free spirits, converge in a place where two great rivers become one. The place, one of my favorites, is guarded by redrock cliffs and watched over by a mother from wherever heaven might be.

Emma and Dennis may be joined, but the guess here is that marriage will not keep either from pursuing their dreams.

They will be together, though.

And that will make all the difference.