Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Missed opportunities are easy enough to forestall, if you have your default response setting switched to Yes. But I had mine switched to No on one recent occasion, and passed up an invitation to join an overnight paddling expedition.
A virulent bout of the wouldacouldashouldas hit me the moment I hung up the phone.
The prescription was a shorter foray, one involving four hours, which my commitments allowed, instead of 20, which they did not.
Rack the kayak. Pack the gear. Drive out Northport to School Road to Wheeler Road and follow the gravel lane through Cherokee Marsh Conservation Park to the boat launch and pier.
Take the boat off the roof. Carry it to the water. Put on spray skirt and flotation vest. Wait for the two anglers to back their trailer into the water, secure their motorboat and drive it out. Marvel at the size of the three catfish in their bucket. A lot of meat for dinner.
"He hooked another one," one of the men says, gesturing toward his fishing partner. "Even bigger. But he lost it in the fences out there."
Instead of wouldacouldashouldas, there are resigned smiles. They finish stowing their gear and drive off.
I launch my boat and start paddling.
The fences are part of wetland restoration efforts at Cherokee Marsh and in the upper Yahara River. Since 1849, Cherokee Marsh has lost more than 640 acres of wetland habitat to rising water levels.
That year, a dam was built at Tenney Park. As a result, Lake Mendota's water level rose four feet, flooding the existing wetlands. About half a century later, construction of a second dam raised the lake's level another three feet. Among other consequences, this rise in lake levels had the occasional result of releasing sizeable sedge mats or bogs into the Yahara chain of lakes, where they float and create a nuisance.
Efforts are under way to restore the wetland floral habitat, which is favorable to sandhill cranes, herons, ducks and other waterfowl.
The initiative, which relies on volunteers, includes experimental techniques to establish plants. Wooden snow fences have been installed around these plantings - some under the water, some above it - to reduce the impact of waves on the vegetation. In some places, wire fencing is used to protect the restoration plantings from carp, muskrats and geese.
It is hoped that these plantings will provide a buffer zone - a veritable floral breakwater - that shelters the vulnerable shoreline from the erosive force of wind-driven waves.
If successful, the wetland restoration project might also filter nutrients and help slow the rate at which they flow into Lake Mendota, where they feed lake weeds and other flora.
An overview of the restoration effort is presented on a map posted near one set of fences a short distance from the boat launch. The schematic shows the sensitive areas that boaters are asked to avoid. The display makes for a thorough and efficient education.
I grasp the significance of the project after I paddle up the Yahara River for 40 minutes and, turning around, find a headwind blowing at 25 to 30 miles per hour. A breeze like that kicks up the kind of waves that could do some serious damage to an unbuffered floating shoreline.
Instead, it blows away all of my wouldas, shouldas and couldas.
So if the person who afforded me the missed opportunity is reading this: All due gratitude and then some. In a way, I took you up on your invitation, and did not miss out on an opportunity after all.