The ups and downs of ag­ing. By Bill Heavey

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By BILL HEAVEY FS

Mak­ing the most of my “ma­ture” years

WAKE UP ENOUGH DAYS in a row and you’ll be both a wily sur­vivor and as rel­e­vant as the lapels on a suit. There was a time when young peo­ple revered their el­ders. No one knows when this was. The good news is that we are awash in in­for­ma­tion about ag­ing grace­fully. The bad news is that it’s use­less, hav­ing been writ­ten by guys who be­lieve that Sands of Iwo Jima por­trays John Wayne’s ac­tual ser­vice dur­ing WWII. In one on­line ar­ti­cle, “Ag­ing Grace­fully for Men,” the No. 1 tip is: “Ex­fo­li­ate, mois­tur­ize, and use an eye cream.” Ac­tu­ally, I was look­ing for some­thing a bit deeper. Like how you deal with what’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing. Here, for ex­am­ple, are a cou­ple of ac­tual growth op­por­tu­ni­ties I’m strug­gling to deal with.

Last fall, Steve Stucky, a young friend in Kansas, in­vited me on a Colorado pub­lic-land elk hunt. I loved the idea, right up un­til the de­tails. It would be a “good hike” in and out at 8,500 to 10,000 feet. (Be wary of the words “good hike” from a tough young farmer who was a na­tion­ally re­cruited run­ner in col­lege.) And get­ting the meat out “shouldn’t be too bad if each man makes a few round trips car­ry­ing 150 pounds.” (Once—as in “never”— I could have han­dled that load. These days, 150 pounds would col­lapse my ver­te­brae like an ac­cor­dion be­neath a bull moose. Also, that kind of alti­tude in­duces an in­fluenza-like ill­ness in me these days.) Still, I thought, it’d be a hell of a farewell, a last hur­rah to my big-coun­try hunt­ing days. I let the idea per­co­late for a few days, screwed up my courage, called Steve, and begged off. I’m old, not dumb.

Here’s an even less-wel­come ex­am­ple that I wouldn’t in­clude ex­cept that it’s true. After decades of bowhunt­ing, my ar­rows won’t group past 20 yards. I blame them, nat­u­rally. But I must ad­mit to bring­ing a few things to the potluck. One is a tremor, re­lated ei­ther to ag­ing and/or the med­i­ca­tion I take to stay on the sunny side of the sod. The other is mild tar­get panic (a hor­ren­dous name for an aim­ing is­sue, like you’re not al­ready beat­ing up on your­self hard enough). What it boils down to is this: Once my pin drops be­low the bull’s-eye, it’s like lift­ing a truck to raise it again. There’s a spe­cial agony in re­al­iz­ing that just as I’m the one who cre­ated this mind-set, I’m the only one who can fix it. And I had no idea how much be­ing a bowhunter de­fined me un­til that iden­tity was threat­ened. It’s like one of those dreams where your teeth fall out or turn into rub­ber Chi­clets. I have no ar­gu­ment with guys who take up the cross­bow. I’m just not ready to join them. To me, a cross­bow will al­ways be a 50-yard muz­zleloader, lethal but soul­less. There’s no po­etry in a cross­bow. I hap­pen to like po­etry.

The good news is that ag­ing stops even­tu­ally. (OK, I could have put that bet­ter.) But ag­ing does of­fer def­i­nite plea­sures. These are eas­ier to ac­cess if, like me: (a) your emo­tional age is 14, and (b) you see that as an as­set. Here are some real-life ex­am­ples in which mi­nor at­ti­tude tweaks have made my life more bear­able, in­ter­est­ing, and—dare I say it—fun.

I’ve stopped car­ing—or at least car­ing so much—about what other peo­ple think. In the past, I’d get de­fen­sive when told, “Heavey, you’ve got a sick, twisted sense of hu­mor that makes peo­ple un­com­fort­able be­cause they can’t tell whether you’re kid­ding or se­ri­ous.” Fre­quently, I don’t know, ei­ther. Nev­er­the­less, I’d try to ex­plain that I’d been dropped on my head as a baby or left out in the sun too long. This never worked. Now I just smile and say, “OK, and…?” Amaz­ing how re­fus­ing to take the bait de­flates cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.

I’ve de­cided to stop protest­ing that I’m

not that old yet. It’d be stingy to deprive some young man the sat­is­fac­tion of help­ing his el­ders. You want to haul my deer out of the woods? Get to it, son.

I’ve re­al­ized that “crowd wis­dom” ap­plies only in cer­tain sce­nar­ios. Next time you’re at a movie, watch peo­ple clog­ging the open half of a dou­ble-door exit as they file out. They’ll back up 10 deep wait­ing their turn. When you get there, push open the other door and sa­vor the “Why didn’t I think of that?” mur­murs around you. I love sit­u­a­tions in which the tini­est bit of com­mon sense makes me look smart.

Em­brace your new­found pres­tige as an el­der. Four of us—friends for 40 years—still gather ir­reg­u­larly for a guys only Meat Night. It’s an im­por­tant rit­ual. The other men are un­re­li­able, in­con­sid­er­ate guys whom I also count as my oldest, best friends. Two years ago, Jim, a found­ing mem­ber, was selfish enough to die of pan­cre­atic can­cer at 61, up­set­ting the group’s dy­namic. He left two 20-some­thing sons who I wanted to in­vite to Meat Night but wor­ried they’d feel ob­li­gated or co­erced into it.

“Screw that, dum­b­ass. What’s got­ten into you? It’s good for them,” Mar­cos kindly ex­plained to me. “Be­sides, we’re old men. They have to do what we say.” The scales fell from my eyes. Mar­cos was right. We or­dered them to come.

The boys have been com­ing for a year. They like and value the time with older men, their “In­dian fa­thers,” as one puts it. I told them up front that they’d have to hear the same sto­ries a bunch of times and that at least half of our ad­vice should be jet­ti­soned im­me­di­ately. “And try to re­mem­ber that you’ll be like this your­self one day.”

“Oh, we know,” they said.

“No you don’t,” I said. “You couldn’t. But one day you will.”

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