Ounces of prevention vs. gallons in a rowboat

'Would it be a good idea to tie up the boats before we leave your camp?" asked Gerda, my visitor from Germany.

"No, they'll be fine," I assured her, based on my years of experience at my camp ("cabin" if you're not from here) in the Maine woods.

"But what if the water rises?" she persisted.

Speaking with the voice of authority, I said, "It won't be high again this season." I glanced at the stretch of damp beach. It was the widest it had been all summer.

She looked rather doubtful, tugging the rowboat and canoe as far up as she could on the beach, as if to emphasize her concern. Then she helped me turn the kayak over on the low, narrow dock that reached out into the pond, separating the patch of pickerel weed from the swimming area.

As Gerda led the way up the path to camp, she turned once more to survey the scene: the calm lake, the sandy beach, and the boats unmoored, their prows on shore, their stems still touching water. "I really think we should tie them," Gerda urged.

Feeling a bit superior in my knowledge of the situation, I confidently reiterated my conviction that all would be well. Gerda doesn't give up easily, but she shrugged her shoulders in resignation. After all, she'd be back in Germany in a few days. Whatever untoward happened to my boats would be my responsibility.

Two weeks later, I was attending a writers retreat on Lake Damariscotta in Noblesboro, Maine. It was a glorious early September weekend, considering that Hurricane Floyd had departed the scene only the day before.

Our writing sessions were held on a sunny dock, where we sat on cushions or folded-up jackets and sweaters. The water lapped at the grassy shoreline below us. A bald eagle soared overhead, as if to set his seal of approval on the whole scene.

As I glanced at the height of the water, it occurred to me that a beach probably existed beyond the grass. In that moment, Gerda's last worried look as we ascended the path from the lake flashed into thought. Still, I reasoned, the wide beach in front of camp could accommodate a lot of water before the canoe or the rowboat would be washed away. I tried to ignore any further thoughts of high water and lost boats in order to concentrate on what the instructor was saying.

After our last session, a nagging uncertainty prompted my perusal of a map prior to leaving for home. I found a route that would take me by my camp with only a slight detour.

A few hours later, my car rumbled over the final stretch of the dirt road to camp, and I climbed out in the dooryard.

I could see the blue lake stretching out before me. As I approached the head of the path to the lake, I realized in dismay that indeed the water had risen. It had risen so high that it was just below the edge of the berm and two feet deep at the end of the path! There was no beach to be seen and no dock, kayak, canoe, or rowboat, either.

My face reddened as I thought of Gerda's warnings. I scanned the near shoreline, and there, to the left, among the pickerel weeds, was the dock with the kayak still on it. I decided to don my bathing suit and swim out for a better view. Maybe I'd find my other boats nearby.

Our lake is small, and craft that escape their home beaches soon land on a neighbor's and are taken care of until reclaimed. Still, I wanted to assure myself that my boats were not totally swamped. I waded into the water and turned the kayak upright, hauled it off the dock, and tied it up.

Then I swam out into the lake, looking up and down the shoreline. Aha! Was that my canoe on my neighbor's beach? Although I was sure it was, I didn't fancy swimming over and paddling it back. That could wait until next weekend, when my sister and her family would be at their camp next to mine and could help me.

I didn't see the rowboat, but it might be around a point of land. I swam to shore, a bit mollified. After dressing, I drove home.

Sure enough, the next weekend, my sister and I hiked through the woods to the beach beyond the point. There, safely on the shore, was my rowboat. We'd had the foresight to bring a couple of tins. After bailing out the boat, my sister rowed me around the point to where the canoe was lying on its side. I turned the canoe over (the paddles had been neatly tucked under it) and paddled it back to my shore front.

"I think I'd better tie them up " I said, a bit sheepishly. My sister grinned and agreed. Both were tied securely to trees by the water's edge. Our rescue mission was accomplished.

After this episode with the boats, I initiated a policy to guide me in responding to any reasonable recommendations sent my way in the future. It's neatly summed up in this age-old aphorism, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

"Shouldn't we hang the bathing suits and towels on the back porch? It might rain, you know."

"You're right. Good idea," I say, even if there's no hint of rain on the horizon.

"I think we might want to close the car windows, too. Just in case."

Remembering the strayed boats, I agree to that, too.

And did I ever confess to Gerda what transpired after her repeated warnings about securing the boats? No, but she will find out if she reads this essay.

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