April 27, 2012
And the wind cried NO MERCY
Every archer has a Bad Day. I imagine even the great Howard Hill had a Bad Day every once a decade. (Maybe.) My Bad Day was spread over three shooting sessions and only rain and bugs could have made it worse. It was a week of practices where I just wanted to give up completely and take up bowling, 'cause there ain't NO WIND at the bowling alley.
Here's how it went, three Bad Practices:
The wind blew. My arrow went sideways and stuck pathetically in the wooden frame of the target. The next two disappeared into the leaves behind as they floated up and over. The next draw I pulled back way past my anchor point (to put a little more OOMPH! into the shot and speed it up a bit) and pulled a shoulder muscle. Only true Christian temperance prevented me from unleashing oaths, blasphemies, and other unladylike verbal tropes.
With traditional (SCA) archery, here are your starting points:
You're probably using a bow that can only handle Dacron B-50 bowstrings. Dacron B-50 is notoriously "moody."
You're using wooden spines, which are notoriously inaccurate.
You're not allowed stabilizers but you *can* have a wrist sling. Oh whoopee.
And THEN the wind starts blowing.
And the wind blew for practice on Sunday; it was still blowing for practice on Tuesday, and it was positively gleefully punitive on Thursday, when we were tired and beat-down, bankrupt in spirit and completely convinced of the futility of the whole archery endeavor. Our helpful Forester was there to console us by honing his skills left-handed, when he's a right-hand shooter. He totally whupped our barnacles.
When we got home, we burst into one of the worst domestic disputes I've ever experienced. Outside the backyard fence attempted to unravel itself from its supports. It was all going horribly wrong.
Two days passed. The mood in the household improved. We went downstairs the following Saturday and plinked away at our state-of-no-art 11-yard basement target. There was no wind.
There was a smile in my release again.
Like three Bad Practices never happened.
April 02, 2012
"You may lose six arrows ..."
Age does funny things to the mind. About a year ago, still shocked and grieving over the passing of a little cat we didn't have but barely a year, I found a 30+-year-old "Award of Arms" from my SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) career at Michigan State so long ago. For olding people, escaping into the mythic ideal past is always an option. Prompted by nostalgia regarding those heady days in 1977-78-79 I went to the Internet and found that there were other folks from that era *still in* the SCA, i.e., MY AGE! And not only from that era, but actually right here in town, people who remembered the people I did demo's and attended events with.
It's a year later and I am a real, paying member of the SCA and, by golly, learning to be an archer. Bahhhh, youth! I have no time for nostalgia ... there's an event coming up and I need to MAKE ARROWS!
"WHAT IN HADES AM I DOING?!" I have often asked myself over the last year of near-weekly archery practice and a few events. Like riding a bike or reading, I can't recall my first Draw and Release: I may have been eight or nine and my Dad the Outdoorsman let me try an old bow at the family Cabin, "back in the day," on the outskirts of Evart, Michigan.
As of July, 1972 I was decent enough with a bow to win two Camp Archery Association medals at Timbers Girl Scout Camp as a member of the dreaded Fern Grove archers. There were about six of us from Fern Grove and we were way better than anybody from Shadow Ridge or Whispering Pines! We were even allowed extra after-dinner practices at the range that was set up by the old barn near the main headquarters of the camp. Normally you'd just get archery as part of your daily physical activity, like swimming and boating and so on. Fern Grove was about half a mile down the access road from the barn so we'd leave the unit in formation chanting a cadence. (I won't repeat it. What's composed in Girl Scout Camp, STAYS in Girl Scout camp, and twelve-year-old girls can be pretty colorful, out of earshot of counselors.) With the additional practice we got even better and were invited to take part in a national competition organized by the CAA (as it still does, I find), to submit scores during a supervised and scored shoot. The Fern Grove Archers cleaned up.
On the last day of camp the two medals I won -- Yeoman and Jr. Bowman -- slipped into the tall grass by the same barn, never to be seen again. (I had the bad habit of carrying the medals around with me in my shorts pocket and fiddling with them. Served me right.) I rode home to Flint with my parents, heartbroken. I didn't pick up a bow again, "seriously," until May of 2011, when I joined the SCA.
At that time I had attended a couple of the business meetings of our local barony. The SCA had changed since I last knew it in 1979: now there was a lot of emphasis on Arts and Sciences as well as fighting. There were rapier fighters now, too, and the Pennsic War was two weeks long! -- NOT just staged over one weekend. And our barony had an archery resource. In fact, the SCA now formally supported archery, target and combat archery. Archery had always been a "bucket list" item for my un/spouse. We dithered, we worried: who WERE these people? Would they accept us? -- and then we just showed up to practice about mid-May. She was starting from scratch while I had a lot to remember as well as learn to do right. But we were hooked.
Some of the dreaded Fern Grove charm was still with me, but I had never had "lessons" as such. I'd had a father who was an outdoorsman, a West Virginia Mountain Man through and through (even if he had been born and raised in Michigan). He was also left-handed. One of the first things I found out was that I naturally nocked my arrow on the right, i.e., left-handed ... the legacy of my dear dad trying to teach his right-handed daughter to shoot.
All sorts of other learning opportunities and refinements came along in due course: building arrows, including cutting feathers for fletching; leatherwork for arm guards and gloves; care of the bowstring, with beeswax. This all in addition to the actual practice of archery itself. I look back from the perspective of a year later and realize that I know even less now, given what I now know that I never knew there WAS to know. Just yesterday I experienced my first 3-D roving shoot at a sportsmen's retreat not too far from home. I didn't even realize such things existed until late last year. They're always talking about "holo-suites" on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I know what MINE would look like, if I had a chance to design one ... !
I find, a year later, that I am no longer nostalgic for the youthfully inebriated and dissolute melodramas of my first SCA involvement so long ago. If nothing else, SCA archery is itself something of a newcomer (is my impression) and certainly was not an option in the "old days." I can say with sincerity that at practice or any SCA archery event, you may lose [loose] six arrows (or more!) ... but you may find friends and your life, too.