Friday, December 9, 2011

Besides Writing . . . Archery!

Nothing like archery on a foggy, Autumn day
This week, I'd like to start a new kind of post that veers away from my writing side.  Yes, writing does take up about 60% of my time and existence (okay, maybe more like 80% of my existence), but there are other activities I enjoy that help me get away from the computer screen.  One of these activities is archery.  And no, I don't mean the modern kind where you have all the fancy do-dads to help you hit the target (which would probably help me due to all the time I spend staring at my laptop screen, slowly growing blind . . .).  Nope.  I'm old-fashioned, and so is my bow (well, as old-fashioned as I could get it with my limited funds and resources).

A close call
Anyways, every now and again I need to get away from one of my book projects and get out into the fresh air and focus on something else.  In this case, the bull's eye of a hand-painted target on a piece of burlap secured snugly to an old, moldy hay bale.  So, why archery might you ask?  Well, it all started back when I was a young 'un.  Very early on I became fixated on the story of Robin Hood.  Adventure, hiding out in a forest, shooting arrows and helping bring justice to those in need . . .  What's not to like?  One year I even got my very own bow for Christmas.  And I still have it.  Of course, it's one of those basic fiberglass models with a very limited range.  Luckily, most of the arrows I used when I was younger were homemade: fashioned from a sturdy plant that grew in my yard.  I even fletched them with the feathers from the turkeys and chickens we kept (I grew up in a rural area and yes, I had an interesting childhood).  I spent my days pretending I was a hero of old England, shooting at imaginary foes and retreating into Sherwood Forest (the small copse of Eucalyptus trees growing in the very back of my yard). 

My best effort of the day
Time passed and I moved on, occupying my time with more school-appropriate athletics.  I grew out of my bow and seldom found time to make arrows and such.  But I never forgot my love of archery, and I always told myself that one day I'd like to pick it up again.  After college I moved back to my hometown and started my writing career.  I met up with some old friends from high school and we started spending our weekends finding things we all enjoyed doing together. 

One activity that surfaced during our many discussions was archery.  I mentioned my life-long fascination and love of the sport while my other friend, Laura, offered her knowledge of the English longbowmen (she has a great love for British history).  I went online, looking for directions on how to make a longbow, and before long we were ready to take the first step in becoming serious archers. 

Laura, my other friend Niño, and I spent some time doing research, learning that yew wood worked the best for longbows and that it had to be cut and carved in a specific way.  We searched the local lumber yards but no one had yew available in our area.  Finally, we went into a local rural supply store and visited the archery section, hoping someone  might have some information.  To our great surprise and delight, it turned out their archery expert gave workshops on the weekends, instructing people on how to make their own longbows.  We signed up right away.  

Creating your own longbow is a thoughtful process
For this particular workshop, we used a 2" by 4" red oak board purchased at a local hardware store.  Our instructor cut out the basic bow shape (we didn't want to make any mistakes) and about eight hours later, after much filing and smoothing and planing, we had our very own longbows.  After the bows were complete, we learned how to make a Flemish knot (the braided style of our bowstrings).  And of course, what is a semi-traditional longbow without a name?  I christened mine Tellhariahn (what self-respecting fantasy enthusiast wouldn't make up a name for their bow?) and got to work sewing some archery gloves to keep my arm from being skinned alive by the string. 

The next few weeks consisted of my friends and I finding some hay bales and painting some targets to go with them.  I even designed a few flags to fly while we were out in my back yard to signal we were shooting that day. 

Recently, we haven't found the time to practice our skills as often as we'd like (and when I say skills, I mean it very lightly . . .) and we still haven't taken any classes on arrow making, but perhaps someday we'll get around to it.  I'm by no means an expert archer and if I had the chance to shoot with Robin Hood, I'm positive I'd soon be put to shame.  But there is always room for growth and I don't plan on giving up this new (or should I say resurrected) hobby of mine any time soon.  In fact, a few months ago Laura, Niño and I visited a local range that invited archers from our area to come and test their skills.  Of course, we didn't participate this first time around since we are very much out of practice, but the appearance of my hand-made longbow caused a delightful stir among the other participants.  I have a feeling we'd be welcomed back, even if one of us might be prone to missing the target more often than not . . .

Time to call it quits for the day!  Hey, I got
   one arrow kind of close to the bull's eye . . .

When the three of us started out on this venture of ours, we had great dreams of making our very own, genuine yew wood longbows from scratch and becoming expert marksmen and women.  Of course, our bows aren't made of yew and we had some help in creating them, and we are far from being confident enough in our skills to display them in public.  But we came out of the experience with the knowledge of how to make longbows and the bowstrings to go with them (I actually snapped my string several months ago and had to put those skills to the test when I fashioned another string). 

Hopefully someday we'll stumble upon some favorable pieces of yew wood, and perhaps we'll get a chance to make some more bows and host our very own archery competition.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll be shooting like Robin Hood by then ;).

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