The day's chores were done, I had completed the tasks I had set for myself, the animals were cared for... I paced the house testily; like a caged animal facing freedom. The sky outside was gray and angry, moodily shifting from downpours to sullen moments of light mist. The logical side of me said to stay inside where it was warm and dry. The not-so-logical side wanted to be outside doing archery practice.
I went with the not-so-logical side of myself today.
I pulled the beloved long bow out of the closet and strung it with ease. Stringing my bow used to give me so much frustration. I wasn't strong enough, I thought, to get the string into the rubber grooves on each end of my 5' long, fiberglass bow. But after a few weeks of practice, I can now do this small chore with the ease of tying a shoe. I clipped the black quiver onto the waistband of my skirt and slipped in 6 arrows. Before heading outside, I grabbed my Carhartt, a pair of leather gloves, and my MP3. These three things really are the key to properly using the long bow.
The rain was withholding as I stepped outside. My appearance was eyebrow raising, with a denim skirt, Carhartt coat, flower-print boots, and a red bow held with comfortable confidence. But I didn't care. I was outside with one goal in mind: to set shaft to bow. To draw, hold, and release.
It took a few more minutes to set my hay bale target up, close gates so as to keep nosey cows away, and set my target distance. Today I would only be shooting 33 yards. I wanted something close.
The first five shots are always warm-ups. I don't try to hit any bulls-eyes. I work on loosening up, matching my arm strength to the target distance, quieting my mind so that I am in the present. Draw, hold, release. Think of nothing save the arrows, the target, the distance.
When at last I feel ready, I turn my MP3 on and flip over to my Braveheart soundtrack. Though I have never seen that movie, I have been listening to the songs since I was 12 years old. Today's choice was track #8, titled 'Revenge'. The song takes two minutes before it speeds up and gets to the point where I fall into it's comfortable pace that matches my shooting ability.
At last I am ready. I am poised, with the arrow fitted to the notch on my bow. The song hits 3:23 in time and I start. I inhale deeply as I draw the hard, slim string on this lightweight weapon. Inhale, draw, and hold it. I am a nearsighted archer, and can only see about 10 to 15 yards ahead. Though I just got glasses this week, I chose to go without them today. You really don't need the greatest eyesight when you're hunting a hay bale. I hold my feathered shaft in place, my right arm is completely parallel with my right ear, I am facing to the west while my torso is pivoted to the south; facing my target. When I feel that I have a bead on the bulls-eye, I loose the shaft in one quick, heart-stopping motion. The string whizzes forward, propelling my arrow forward at a shocking speed. The arrow hits the ground just touching the bale of hay, while at the same time my bow string finishes it's reverberating movement with a SNAP against my wrist and palm. I am wearing a heavy coat and leather gloves today. If it weren't for them, then the bow string would have left a ragged wound on my exposed skin with bruising on the edges, and blood in the center. This I know from experience. With my heavy duty clothes though, it leaves only a minor bruise. You come to ignore the bruises and the pain of the moment. It is a dull ache as you continue to fire arrow after arrow. But it's just a part of this sport.
There is a certain grace to archery which captivates me to no end. It is not something that can be done with a gun. With my bow and my music I fall into a very methodical rhythm. With my quiver at my side I grab an arrow with my right hand and fit it in the bow with surprising ease, despite the leather gloves. I straighten my spine, and inhale as I draw; A deep breath which causes me to focus with the intensity of a Border Collie. I peer down the camouflage shaft of my arrow, pull back slightly more on the string, feeling every muscle, every nerve that is required for this moment. I pull back and with a grace that has to be learned, I let go of my string. Let go too roughly and you will alter your arrow's path. Too slowly and your arrow with not go it's full length or speed.
My music hits 5:08 in time and the sudden change in tempo causes me to unconsciously draw back more than I should have on my next arrow. I shoot and watch my arrow fly 50 yards. My target was at 33 yards.
I loose two more arrows and then finally get what I want: A hit target. I jog-trot up to the bale of hay and check to see where my arrow had landed. Only a half inch away from the bulls-eye, it was deeply embedded in the dried summer grasses. Close but no cigar.
The sky becomes angrier and slowly begins to release it's rain drops. Not enough to cause me to turn back and sheath my arrows, but just enough to give the day a Scottish flair. Where's the kilt when you need it?
After 25 minutes of shooting, I am so focused on my task that I hear nothing, see nothing, acknowledge nothing around me save for the continuous movements of my archery. Fit arrow, draw, hold, release. Fit arrow, draw, hold, release. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.
The rain begins to come down a bit harder, so I switch my music over to a last ovation for the day. This time I go for something sunny sounding and choose Julie Fowlis' song 'Touch The Sky'. Still Scottish in flavor, the song helps me to lift my focused mood. As I fit another arrow shaft in my bow, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. I look up and see three young men across the road, whom I had never seen before. Their baggy, black clothes hardly seemed warm enough for this weather, but perhaps the chains helped? (I kid.) They craned their necks to see what I was up to, and as they saw me raise my bow with an arrow on it (aiming at the target! Not the people!), they immediately turned around and hightailed it for safer grounds. Och, mess ye' not wi' a lass who kens how tae use a bow and shaft.
I shoot three more arrows, and then quit for the day. The appearance of the three strangers has rattled me out of my reverie and my aim is no longer what it was ten minutes before.
After putting the hay bale back in the barn, I come inside. I am damp, hot, but in a much calmer state of mind than I was earlier in the day. I hang the quiver up, with all the arrows present and accounted for. The bow is unstrung, wiped down, and then put back in the closet where it will remain until next time. I am working on my aim, my skill, my competence in this sport. Next summer I will do this on horseback. There is a group of mounted archers who meet twice a month in Newberg, and I am impatient to number myself in their party. Archery and horseback riding. To me, that is the ultimate challenge in life. To time your arrows to the cadence of hooves; balancing your body with the upward swell of a horse while still keeping your bow still and centered on the target. I have a hard enough time right now hitting a bulls-eye while standing on Terra firma; I can't imagine being at the point where I can successfully do it from the back of a horse who is going 15 to 20 miles an hour and covering 12 feet in every stride. But for now I practice in the rain, standing on my own two feet. It's a good way to spend the day.