It was my “red sports car,” my “affair with my secretary,” my “Harley-Davidson motorcycle.” I call it a “trout pond,” and it was how I got through my mid-life crises.
Turning 50 was not easy. I was divorcing, had watched as the last of our four children grew up and moved away, and meanwhile was selling the generational family business–all at about the same time. I put a good face on it and pretended it was not a big deal. That’s what real men do, right? I just needed to stay busy and put some distance between me and that year.
So, I partnered with my brother, and we bought a herd of beef cows. Still not busy enough, I began to board horses for people. Then, I built another barn, and then another barn, and added more horses. Then I put in 12 miles of horse trails throughout this property– anything to stay busy, to keep my mind somewhere else. Nothing seemed to help.
Maybe I needed that sports car or girlfriend, or maybe I should’ve just strapped myself to a Hogg and head to Colorado . . . or maybe I just needed to do something unusual, something out of the ordinary, something everyone said couldn’t be done. So I built a trout pond.
Trout need cold water to survive. I knew this, but I also knew how cold this spring-fed creek was that runs through this property. So I dammed it up and ordered the fish. Word began to spread that there were rainbow trout swimming year-round in a creek in central Alabama. The media came: a couple of stories written and one television interview later. Things were better, but I still needed something else. Then my phone rang.
The caller was a minister from a church in a neighboring town about an hour’s drive from here. One of his members was a 14-year-old boy named “Zachary.” Zack was in his last weeks of life, and one of the things he wanted to do before he died was to catch a trout.
I watched as the minister and Zack’s father lowered him into his wheelchair. Introductions were made as they rolled him to the banks of the creek. The preacher and I stood in the shadows as Zack’s family surrounded him while he and his father made his first cast. The ripple on the water caught the attention of a 3-pound rainbow and the fight was on.
“Can I keep him?!” Zack asked.
“Of course,” I replied. (Keep them all, I thought.)
As his father began to help Zack make his next cast, I heard him say to his dad, “I got this.” With the last of his strength, Zack landed an even bigger trout and then they said their goodbyes. Zack lost his battle with cancer two weeks later.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment a mid-life crises begins or when it ends. For me, it began with a divorce, an empty next, and a herd of Holsteins leaving this property. And it ended the day I watched a boy catch his last fish from the banks of a cold creek in Alabama.