Cast & Blast

When it comes down to it: Nature can heal the deepest of wounds

I was sitting near the May River the other afternoon, just staring at the water and enjoying the late afternoon sea breeze and, out of nowhere, I had an epiphany.

I think I know what prompted this flash because all day my back had been giving me fits. I was experiencing a mixture of feeling sorry for myself and frustration because my back problems were robbing me of the ability to do many of the things I love the most.

I know I am not the only person around who has been the victim of a life-changing event, but dealing with the consequences of such an event is a real roller-coaster ride. For those who read my column regularly, you know I often talk about my back, but maybe you don't know what happened to me. I was driving along with a bluebird on my shoulder -- life was good -- and in the time it took a gentleman to run a stop sign, T-bone me and roll my car down the highway, my life changed completely.

I went from being a runaway freight train to the Little Engine That Could chanting "I think I can, I think I can" as I tried to do the simplest tasks. Before this, I had always found a way to bounce back from traumas, but after about the third or fourth operation, I knew for a fact that things were never going to be the same.

For someone like me, that is one hard pill to swallow.

The grand plan for my life went back to the day my second child, Logan, was born. I decided that just as soon as Logan graduated from college, I was going to bag 30 stressful years of advertising and design and spend the rest of my life doing what I like best ... fishing. Unfortunately, that curve ball put an end to my dream.

I can only imagine what you are thinking. No doubt it goes something like this: "Man oh man, this guy has the life! He gets to fish all day, every day and what about all the things he gets to do and see! What a lucky stiff."

The fact is I don't fish every day. For every one day I fish, I spend about two to three days recuperating. Even on a day when the winds are calm and the sea is as flat as a pancake, I pay dearly for my hours on the water. I guess the big question has to be, "Is it worth it?"

The answer to that usually strikes me just about the time my doctor shoves a foot-long needle down my spinal column. At that particular moment I would probably scream, "No!" But once the meds kick in and my back begins to relax, I think back to the highlights of my excursion and a smile rises up out of the pain. It might have been the right whale that came up next to the boat; that dinner plate size eye looking straight at me. Or the massive manta ray with a good 20-feet wing span. These are the awesome sights and experiences that make it all worthwhile.

My pain never goes away. It is there every moment of the day and night with the only unknown being what degree of pain I will wake up to on any given day. That's the part that really throws a monkey wrench into the works.

Take this scenario for instance: I had been preparing all week for a trip offshore only to wake that morning to pain that bordered on the indescribable. It's days like that when I have to suck it up, put on my back brace and play pretend to my fishing buddies that I am 100 percent and raring to go. Luckily, most of these buddies are understanding and excuse me from doing chores like net throwing and anchor pulling.

Now here's a fact about me that I'll bet you would never guess. I haven't reeled in a big fish in nearly six years. That's right. If I hook a big fish, I hand the rod to the person standing closest to me. I call it adapting.

For me it is my back. For others it is simply old age or some physical ailment that puts the skids on your passions. And here lies the epiphany that I experienced as I sat beside the river.

Everyone at some time in his or her life is going to be dealt a bad hand. Unfortunately, mine is permanent, so I have to learn from it, adapt and accept it for what it is. It can be extremely depressing but after fighting that depression for five years, I have come to the conclusion that nature is life's very best medicine.