Barnacles

The barnacle is an admirable creature, if you value tenaciousness. It’s evolved to cling tightly to a surface, be it a rock or a ship’s hull, so that it can filter feed on the micro-organisms that float by. There are species of barnacles that even cling to a whale’s skin, forcing those creatures to scrape their hides against passing boats in an effort to dislodge the unwelcome passengers.

But barnacles cling on, and we should admire that strength of purpose. If you’re a barnacle, clinging power is a good thing.

And yet, on the other hand, to the whale or the ship owner the barnacle is a pest and an impediment. It slows them down and over time can accumulate to the point where they can only move with great effort, and even when they scrape them off the barnacles just keep coming back in a never-ending battle. Eventually, they must be tempted just to give up and let them collect and weigh them down to sink into the sea.

We all have our barnacles in life, those little things that weight us and slow us. For me it’s nagging injuries. When I was about 7 I was walking along a lake shore and stepped on a piece of glass. The cut didn’t seem serious at the time, but it was deep enough that it damaged the muscles and ligaments in the arch of my right foot, so that now I have one flat foot and one normally arched foot. That effectively makes my right leg shorter than my left, which causes my pelvis to tilt, which puts my back out of whack, and leads to bouts of sciatica. That barnacle has clung on stubbornly for more than 50 years now.

And there are others. A legacy of heavy work on a farm when I was in my teens, my achy knees warn me a day or two ahead of any change in the weather. And the jammed big toe on my left foot, which I did slipping on an (ironically) barnacle-covered rock on a beach in New Zealand, makes the joint of the toe and the ball of my left foot burn with pain sometimes. Or the broken big toe on my right foot, which I did tripping on some stairs, replays the original sharp pain when I’m walking in hiking boots. Or the torn calf muscle on my right leg, which I did playing catch with some of the players on the pee wee baseball team I coached, flares up once in awhile as a general soreness in the calf and achilles tendon.

All of these old barnacles mean that the first 15-30 minutes of a walk are a shakedown of little niggles, as I get warmed up and used to the nags and my brain tells them all to go away for awhile. At least that’s what often happens, but not always. Sometimes the barnacles are just too nagging that day, there’s too much resistance for the energy level that I have. They slow me down to the point where I just pack it in, a planned 2 hour walk cut down to 30 minutes.

I know we all have our barnacles, some physical, some emotional, and some spiritual. I tell myself that it’s a privilege to have lived long enough to feel them, and I know that they’re minor, relatively speaking – many people have far worse issues to deal with than my little pains.

But it’s human nature to focus on yourself and your problems. So for me, it’s better to admire the barnacle’s staying power and tenacity. Don’t give in to the barnacles, imitate them. Getting out for a walk and ignoring my barnacles is a way of blowing a raspberry at Father Time. After all, would you rather be the barnacle, or the whale?