Etymology has remained a fascination since my college course by the same name, taken all those many years ago. In earlier years, I was faced by such a mass of knowledge to be ingested, processed, and stored that I had no time or energy remaining with which to ponder the sourcing of all those words I heard in lectures and read in textbooks and professional journals. Retirement does have its pleasures, not least of which is the opportunity to sit back, have a sip of coffee, and marvel at the beauty and genius of the intertwining of the varying pitches and timbres falling from our mouths, pens, and keyboards with which we communicate with each other and the rest of the world.
As I fished the Davidson River a couple of weeks ago, the word pillage seemed to emerge from the fog of my trout obsessed mind. The word “pillage” conjures visions of invading medieval armies wantonly stealing every object of value in their conquered lands, laying waste to all in their paths. The Davidson is a spectacular piece of water, ripe with a bounty of one of God’s loveliest creations, the trout. With the assistance of my guide Bill, I was privileged to enjoy close encounters of the piscine kind repeatedly over the course of two wonderful days. My mind drifted back to my youth, a time when catch and release practice was as well understood by my family and peer group as was quantum mechanics, though we had a fundamental grasp of “string” theory. The first time I saw television bass anglers turn back their fish to the water, I gasped with shock. “What kind of fool would throw back his catch?” I asked myself rhetorically. I failed to connect the dots with all the times in my youth that I had been to the lake, filled a cooler with crappie, had a family fish fry, then stuffed the remaining uneaten fish in the freezer, only to toss them in the garbage a few months later. Had I no conscience ( or guide), history could have easily repeated itself on the Davidson, so plentiful are the trout there.
The origins of the word pillage are quite interesting. Going back to the Old French, the word connoted “To Plunder.” If we look a bit deeper, its Latin origin is “Pilare”. This literally means to “pull out the hair.” The origin of this term was, in turn, from another Latin root word- “Pilur”, or “hair.” Like most trout anglers, I simply could not imagine pillaging a river by killing every trout I manage to catch. I can, however, recall all the many, many times I have wanted to pull my own hair out after matching wits with a difficult trout, a creature with an I.Q. of 0.000001, only to walk away muttering to myself. I think that it is fair to say that the trout have pillaged me, rather than the reverse. Those obstinate trout need to read the 4th Geneva Convention, which specifically forbids the act of pillaging by warring nations. Perhaps I should read it aloud to them before entering the river’s waters, just as a gentle reminder .
As I struggled to maintain an upright posture in the fast flowing waters of the Davidson, I became acutely aware of my advancing age. Leaning on a wading staff to steady mtself, I felt like a feeble, weak old man as the current flapped the waders around my calves. I recall not so long ago thinking that sixty was a very advanced age. Now that I am a member of the sexagenarian club myself, it suddenly seems not all that old, at least until my achy knees and back inject a little reality into my thinking. Despite my mental youth, I am indeed, acquiring an old man’s body and I am not the sexy-genarian I have claimed to be. To paraphrase a line from the popular movie Top Gun, “My mind is writing checks my body just can’t cash!” As I was forced to swallow a couple more pain pills, as well as my pride in order to remain in the river, the word pillage began to take on a new meaning, an etymology of my own invention.
“One pill makes larger, and one pill makes you small.” So go the opening lyrics to Grace Slick’s song “White Rabbit”, an ode to the Sixties drug culture, and to Lewis Carroll’s fantasy world of Alice in Wonderland. Many speculate that Carroll’s tale may be a recollection of his own psychedelic adventures in a time before mind expansion through pharmacologic agents became so accepted and widespread.
Or perhaps, he simply possessed an unusally imaginative mind. It is certainly not a giant leap to imagine his creations to have emerged from popular drugs of his day. Indeed, I wonder exactly what the Caterpillar may have been smoking in that hookah.
Pillage has now taken on an entirely new, and somewhat disconcerting meaning in my own life. I am beginning to think of it as “Pill Age.” I have achieved a few years ago, truth be told, middle age. Middle age, as we all are aware, is that point in life where your middle begins to show your age. As the passage of time takes it inevitable toll on my physical being, I grow ever increasingly dependent on medications of various sorts to maintain a reasonable quality of life. The infirmities that accompany aging are plunderers themselves. They pillage a person of their normal bodily functions, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, even sexual function. These days I find that I need a pill for almost everything in my life. I take a pill for my hypertension, another for my cholesterol, yet another for my arthritis. Sleep for longer than two to three hours has become completely impossible without a pill. When arthritis drugs become insufficient to control my discomfort or allow an adequate level of function , I even take pain pills. It is difficult to deny that you have reached “Pill Age’ when you need assistance even in the physical expression of your love for your wife. Contemplation of my aches, pains, and physical failure can lead to a degree of anxiety and even depression. Guess what- there are pills for those issues also! So many things that were so natural and easy in my younger days now all require pharmaceutical intervention. Perhaps our bodies really were not meant to have a useful service life of more than fifty years.
These days I have increased time available for watching television. I have been amazed at some of the things I have seen on TV. It has become apparent to me that a very reliable way to become wealthy in America is to buy television advertising time, and present commercials for products that promise to make people thin, make them rich, or cure their arthritis. I continue to seek that pill which will extend my useful fly fishing life. Perhaps I should pursue a similar path to the carnival barkers featured in the television adverts and create a pill for fly fishermen. It could not possibly be too dificult to concoct some admixture of herbs, vitamins, saw palmetto, and glucosamine that might be just the magic elixir to keep us “experienced” fishermen going strong into our eighties. Imagine a pill that could cure your arthritis, decrease your body weight, and even increase the modulus of your rod, to so speak. I’ll be chasing GT’s and giant bonefish in the Seychelles in no time once I get this formula perfected!!