This photograph is what riverfront lot owners on the Potomac River in Falling Waters, West Virginia woke up to two years ago, when the river crested at twenty seven feet from a normal eighteen feet. You might be able to make out the child’s swing set in the middle, right hand side of the photograph, and what you probably can’t make out are floating coolers, folding chairs, and a sinking speed boat in the distance. My vacation riverfront lot sits a quarter mile downriver from where I took this photograph, where it levels out at thirty feet. We were three inches away from disaster that year until the next flood warning, a few months later.
Riverfront lot owners understand that flooding is a yearly thing; sometimes occuring two or three times a year. We accepted that inevitable fact when we bought our properties, and we shrugged when informed no one would insure us against flooding. That’s just the way it is if you want to live near the river. We purposely keep belongings in our campers and sheds to a bare minimum—nothing fancy—so if we are flooded, nothing is irreplaceable.
In recent years, after a bad winter, melting snow in the mountains caused creeks and rivers in Maryland and West Virginia to swell and flood, surging toward the Potomac River in the spring. At times there is no warning and very little time to prepare and act. I watch NOAA’s predictions and when there’s a warning, I must decide—to move or not to move to higher ground—that’s always the question and floods can happen any time of year. There have been times we chose to ride out the bad weather and watch the rising river, praying that it would crest way below what was predicted. A wrong decision can mean the loss of boats, trailers, campers—the whole ball of wax.
One April, a friend and I watched the waters of the Potomac River rise to the fifth of twenty two steps on the staircase that leads to the river, as we sat around a bonfire at 3 am, wondering if we could chance falling asleep. We kept adding pennies to the next dry step, only to find the penny had disappeared thirty minutes later. What an adventure we had that night. With our adrenaline pumping, we made the decision not to panic early and call the tow truck company to haul the camper to higher ground, which is a difficult, tedious, and a very costly decision. It turned out the river didn’t reach our patio, but many lot owners upriver experienced flooded campers and lots which I could tell from the refrigerators and coolers that floated by the following morning. Other years, my decision to move to higher elevation was a mistake, but I was okay with the decision that was ultimately mine since my co-owner lives in the DC area. I merely shrugged and learned to be more patient and watchful for signs in nature.
We’ve gambled, survived floods, and we’re proud of ourselves. You see, my co-owner and I are two of four women who own riverfront lots in our Park. Our male neighbors have confessed how they used to watch us to see how we’d react to floods and according to them, we did good—we’ve survived four seasons.
There’s nothing quite like waking up to a river view and enjoying a cup of hot coffee, watching the fog roll off the surface of the water and hearing the woodpeckers in the distance. Our friends who own lots on higher ground say they couldn’t stand the stress and uncertainty of living on the river. I shrug and say the pleasures and beauty of waking up to a view of the Potomac River while I sip my coffee are worth the risk. When I see geese glide over the river, an eagle soar overhead, or watch a new family of ducks swim by while listening to the fishermen’s conversations from boats I can’t see through the early morning fog, I’m at peace. “Just not worth it”, our neighbors have said to us and we smile because when the weather is dry and hot, these same neighbors will be calling us to see about bringing their sweaty kids over for a cool swim in the river or to fish off our floating dock. Well, writing books is exactly like that. There’s a risk and a gamble involved every time we start writing a new book, and writing books isn’t for everyone, especially not the faint of heart. The risks that our story might not ever be picked up by a big name agent or a big publishing house are there, ever present, but still we persevere. Friends and family secretly believe we should get a day job and give up our dream of writing books, but we know better because there are many ways to publish a book. Writing is a passion that digs its hooks and talons deep within us, and we can’t deny or ignore it. Yes, writing is a risky business, but we write because we must. Don’t give up.
Life at the river has taught me resilience, has grown my courage, and shown me how to live with my decisions, good or bad. I’ve learned to trust my gut when others are jumping ship. I admit there were times I thought about throwing in the towel and calling it a day at the river and with my first novel-length manuscript, A Decent Woman. I’m sometimes plagued by thoughts that we’ll lose the camper to flooding and I worked through doubt and fear that I’d never see my first book in print. Well, my first book was published in February 2015 and we’re starting our fifth season at the river.
Today I’m thinking of summer and autumn mornings to come when I’ll sit and write at the farm table on the patio that faces the river, and I’ll be in my element—at the river and at my laptop. Tomorrow my two loves will come together again when I’m back at the river for the first time this season. I will continue putting myself out there with the next book, and I visualize seeing my two books sitting side by side on that farm table at the river. There will be other books to write after that, and there will be a new flood season to contend with and learn from. Writing is worth the long hours of isolation, paralyzing fear, and the uncertainty that comes with it, and the even longer hours and frustrations of querying agents and publishers. I’m a storyteller and I love the river. How else am I going to get my 57-year the old blood pumping, my adrenaline flowing, and keep pushing my brain cells to continue firing up?
Don’t listen to naysayers who live inland. Live near the river where the action is, and don’t jump ship.
Puerto Rican-born novelist Eleanor Parker Sapia was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s life experiences as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her passion for writing. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago a second time.
A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s bestselling historical novel, is the July 2015 Book of the Month selection for the national organization Las Comadres & Friends Book Club. It is described as “…a true work of historical depth and artistry.” Eleanor has two adventurous, grown children and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia.
Visit Eleanor at http://www.eleanorparkersapia.com.