“But I know nothing about dam construction!” The exclamation was somewhat exasperated.
“Just look at it,” said Geoff. He pointed at the dam which was holding back a small lake in the narrow valley above. Below it, the land spread out fairly quickly into gently rolling farmland. The obvious issue was the land immediately below the dam, in which there were scattered fruit trees and a few small houses, just shelters really.
“I see it,” said Ron, “but I still don’t know anything about dams. I can’t tell you whether it’s a good idea to turn that land into an orchard.”
“But you’re the smartest man I know. Surely you have somewhat of an idea!”
“Any idea I have is uninformed and unsupported. I really don’t want to give you an inaccurate assessment of your risk. You need to get a real expert.”
“There you go with the big words. I just want a simple answer, yes or no. I think you just don’t understand the importance of this, the income I can derive from cultivating that land. I just want an opinion on whether this dam will hold. It has held for decades, after all.”
“It sounds like you already have an opinion.”
“Yes, but I want yours.”
Ron looked at the dam and studied it. No matter how long he looked it just looked like rocks, dirt, some concrete, holding back a lake. It almost looked like part of the landscape.
“Well, for what it’s worth,” he said finally, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” That’s not a lie, he assured himself. I really don’t see anything wrong with it. Nothing right with it either. It’s just there.
“Good!” said Geoff. “Just what I wanted to hear. I knew you’d see it my way. You’re the smartest person I know.”
Somehow that last statement made Ron feel guilty.
Years passed, and then came the flood. It was hardly anyone’s fault that people weren’t prepared. The snows melted in the mountains, and the spring rains were heavier than usual, but all that was well upstream.
Yes, it was a rainy spring, but until the mix of broken ice and water came pouring down through the valley. The dam didn’t resist for more than a few minutes. Many farms downstream were severely damaged, but the orchard below the damn was wiped out, along with Geoff’s new house.
Geoff showed up on Ron’s doorstep. Ron’s house wasn’t near the path of destruction.
“Dead,” said Geoff. “All dead. My family. In the house. Dead.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Ron, wondering why he was feeling guilty. After all, he hadn’t sent the rain.
“Gone!” shouted Geoff. “All gone! Washed away!” He waved his arm as though he was seeping trash off a table top.
Ron could tell that Geoff was blaming him for the destruction. “I’m sorry for your losses,” he said dully.
“You should have told me,” said Geoff. “You should have told me the dam was no good.”
“It was only an opinion. I told you I wasn’t an expert on dam building.”
Geoff turned and stumbled away. “You should have told me,” he was muttering as he left.
Ron stood watching him. It was only an opinion. I told him I wasn’t an expert.