The old archer glared at me between the brim of his hat and the sooty top of his ancient flattop. This went on for several minutes and it was clear he had more than a guitar to pick on. “Never understood how someone could shoot anything but a cedar from a longbow.” He poked, wrangling a C chord in the open position. “‘Specially not one of them things.”
“Nothing wrong with carbon arrows.” I grinned, rolling the newly fletched shaft between my thumb and forefinger. “They’ll get from A to B and won’t snap if interrupted or looked at funny.” He scoffed, as if offended by the thought. “They don’t break if you build ’em right.” He said, walking his fingers to the G. I’d heard this verse before, but suspected it would be a spell before we’d reach the second – if we ever did.
“So who’s building yours then?”
He snickered. “‘Carbonarrows’…sounds like some kind of Mexican currency.”
“Want a cup Ol’ Man?”
“Sure, but don’t put any of that vanilla bean, hazelnut garbage in it. Coffee ain’t supposed to be a dessert!”
“Roger that.” I shot back, making my way to the camper. “The man takes it black!”
A single match brought the little green Coleman to life, and the percolator bubbled shortly after. Our nostrils filled with the sweet bitter smell of Folgers and reminded us of the morning’s activities. He put down his guitar and I handed him a mug. “What time you want to shoot tomorrow?” I said, returning my quiver to the rack next to his.
“Well young man,” he young-manned, “that all depends on you. But we’ve got to get up early to beat that crowd. This is a popular shoot and I get real ornery waiting at every target.”
“You? I don’t believe it.”
He took a swig, clearing half the cup in one gulp. “Believe it.” He said, nodding at his gear. Hell, I’m ready to go. The longbow’s strung, the arrows are ready to fly.”
“Whatcha got in here this year?” I asked, examining his quiver. It was old and worn in all the right places, like everything else he owned, but lovingly cared for and filled to the brim with cedar. “Well they ain’t plastic.” He laughed, tipping the mug back and giving it a spank to free the grounds on the bottom.
“May I?” I asked, reaching for a nock.
“Be my guest!”
A careful tug sent the arrow sliding over the lip of the quiver and away from the rest of the flock. The lacquered shaft shimmered in the moonlight. I carried it over to the fire to get a better look. The old archer leaned forward, preparing for any questions I might have.
It was cedar, stained a dark walnut from the back of the point to the fletching. The cap, which had been white at creation, had yellowed to a beautiful cream with age and use. The cresting – a combination of red, black, and silver – was painstakingly applied on a hand-rolled jig of his own design. They were stunning.
“Those are real turkey feathers you know.” He said. “The primaries of a bird I killed with the old Remington on the farm a few years back.”
The softball was lobbed and I couldn’t resist the urge to swing. “The Remington, huh? Is a 3 1/2″ load of buckshot considered traditional tackle these days?” I could see his face redden through the fire. The faintest hint of a smile creased his lips.
“Birds don’t count.”
“Since when?” I poked.
“Since before you were born when people were killing them with shotguns.”
“This is a beautiful arrow.” I said, changing the subject. “I don’t think I could ever make one as nice as this.”
“You absolutely can. And you will. So help me, you will. Even if I have to ride you until I’m dead. You know why? Because someone has to. Nothing wrong with what you’re shooting, but its important to remember the old ways of doing things. That’s what this is all about.”
He was right. Then again, he always was. Even when he was wrong, somehow he was right. I’d grown accustomed to it. And in that instance, I looked at that old archer and saw myself a few years down the road. I was wearing that old hat and shooting those wood arrows. I was picking that old guitar and showing another cocky young buck the path less traveled. I smiled at the thought, no longer bothered by the transition.
“Well old man, we’d better turn in if you want to hit that course as early as you say you do.” I said. “You want eggs tomorrow?”
“You know it! I’m going to need the protein to pull out all those 10s.”
“Right. Would it be okay if I used the plastic spatula, or can I only use wood?”
Nick Viau lives in Rockford, Michigan and is an active participant of the Simply Traditional Field Staff team. He owns and maintains the traditional archery blog Life and Longbows and is currently the president of the Michigan Longbow Association.