Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothing to plunder
I'm an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late
I've done a bit of smuggling, I've run my share of grass
I made enough money to buy Miami, but I pissed it away so fast
Never meant to last, never meant to last
—Jimmy Buffett, A Pirate Looks at 40
If you’re under 40, you don’t need to read this. Better you just go about your life, wistfully believing that everything is just fine. No need to give that little tinge of pain in your knee another thought — you know, that little sharp sting that shoots up your leg when you step just a little bit funny. Or that dull throb in your hip after a day on the trail. That slight burn in your lower back brought on by that high-school basketball injury that magically reappears after a day spent standing in the bow of a boat? Don’t give it a second thought.
Just go fishing.
Don’t worry about it. It’s probably nothing. And, as they say, ignorance is bliss.
I once heard a comedian (and forgive me — I can’t remember his name) deliver a line that blissfully defines youth.
“When you’re 30, you can stand in front of a mirror and stab yourself repeatedly and literally watch the wounds heal before your very eyes,” the comic said, or something very close to this. “When you’re 40, and you drop your keys and then accidentally kick them under the car, you just throw up your hands, exasperated, and say, ‘To hell with it. I’ll buy a new car.’”
Well, I’m 53. I’m two reconstructive surgeries into my post-40 existence (and several cars, too), and, as you read this, I’ll hopefully be recovering from a gallbladder removal surgery. I say hopefully, because… well, you never know at this age (I realize I sound like the stereotypical old man, but, if the shoe fits …).
This is a problem I’ve likely had for years. Gallstones can be tricky beasts — they can flare up and limit the bile secretion from your liver into your digestive system, and, during a particularly flamboyant attack, they can make you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut by Almádena del Diablo, a rodeo bull I once saw flatten a cowboy at the Eastern Idaho State Fair.
Sure, it’s largely a self-inflicted condition — too much goodness in my life, as far as I can tell. Red meat. Red wine. Fish and chips. Beer.
And, honestly, the gallbladder isn’t the point here. It’s the aging. There’s no doubt I’m slowing down. And no, I don’t necessarily want to slow down — I just don’t have a choice.
Just a few years ago, the thought of going months without picking up a fly rod seemed absolutely unforgivable. These days, often days spent feeling just a bit off thanks to this innards issue, I need a better reason to load my gear in the truck and go. Generally, it’s just too cold. Or maybe too hot. Or the drive is too far. Excuses? I got ‘em.
I realize that fly fishing is one of those pursuits that we can practice well into our doddaring years. But as the doddaring years get closer, there’s also a motivation issue, particularly when things just don’t feel right. I know that when I spend a day on the water, I’m going to come home and be sore. I know my rebuilt shoulder (reconstructive surgery No. 1) will feel … tired. I know my fused lower back (reconstructive surgery No. 2) will be a little angry with me, and I’ll reach for the ibuprofen to improve its mood. But the gallbladder? It doesn’t take a day walking and wading a small stream to irritate this mercurial organ. It just takes a good ribeye and a glass of malbec to piss this thing off.
So, yeah. I did the obvious stuff. I cut back on good ribeyes and solid Argentinian wines. But at some point, the damage is done, right? You can’t really “unmake” gallstones, but there are some holistic treatments that declare they are an effective salve against the worst of the pain (and, yes, I’ve tried them). And there’s no telling when these finicky bastards are going to decide to make your day pretty miserable. And it’s not just the pain. It’s a general malaise. Like, “I’m going to take a nap over my lunch break” malaise.
And that’s just not me. Or at least it wasn’t me. But these days, there’s rarely a time when a nap doesn’t sound like a pretty good idea.
So, under the knife I go, and I’ll hopefully emerge feeling a bit better and perhaps a bit more motivated to get out and do things. Like … go fishing.
But for you youngsters out there, don’t fret. I’m sure it’ll be fine. You’re living large right now, and I don’t begrudge your fishing-every-other-day lifestyle one bit. I did it when I could. I can’t expect you to do differently.
But, if you’re still reading (and you haven’t gone fishing yet), know that, in time, it’ll all catch up to you. I suppose, had I listened to my throbbing lower back and sciatica when it first flared up in my 30s, I might have been able to avoid the back fusion. And the shoulder? Meh… that was bound to happen, given all the bad casting I’d done over the years (I will say this, though: the bum shoulder forced me to be a better, more efficient fly caster).
Living hard and fast takes a toll. And now, with the toll due, I wonder if I should have made some better choices all those years ago.
No … pretty sure I’d still have gone fishing.