An Inspiring Weekend

We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there too.

– Fred Bear

This quote hangs to the left of my front door so I see it when I’m ready to meet the day. I wish I could take credit for its finding but it was my wife, Jessica who brought it home from an archery banquet several years ago.

I admit it is a bit of a cliche to post it here. It is one of the first quotes you see when you Google “bowhunting quotes” and is the kind of thing someone posts on social media to show how deep a thinker they are. It is a wonderful quote nonetheless. It makes me think of my archery beginnings and how the activity and community has shaped my life.

Last weekend was a fine example. I attended the Traditional Archery Expo in Kalamazoo and was flooded with memories the moment I crossed the threshold to the vendor floor. The sites and smells of wood, wool, and leather brought me back to my first visit in 2010, when I was a budding traditionalist and craving anything bow and arrow I could get my hands on. From racks of custom bows and brightly crested cedars to bins of odds and ends, the Expo filled every need I had – and even some I didn’t.

It was the Expo, in fact, that influenced me to start Life and Longbows. I was new and starving for content and there wasn’t enough of it out there for someone in my position. “Why not be that person?” I thought. And the rest was history. To quote another budding traditionalist and friend, I was really “chasing it” back then, though the “it” varied with my progression from archer to bowhunter.

There was passion either way. Great passion.

I’ve always loved the Expo for this reason. The entire building buzzes from corner-to-corner with a deafening excitement that is difficult to describe with words. If you’re green, it will consume you. If you’ve been grayed by the indifference of experience, you will find yourself recharged. If you are blackened crispy by the stresses of leadership, you will leave rejuvenated with purpose. I’ve been all of the above but have been living in the gray for several years. I’d accomplished more with the longbow than I could have imagined and wasn’t sure there was anything left to chase.

All that changed the moment I arrived, but it wasn’t the possibility of new gear that put the spring back in my step. It was the people. Handshakes, hugs, and quality conversation were abundant from arrival to departure. My friend Steve (Angell) and I manned a booth for our podcast (Traditional Outdoors) where we had the opportunity to meet many of our listeners and recruit several new ones. The feedback we received for our efforts was very positive. It felt good to know people were enjoying the show and relating to what we were trying to accomplish. Sitting down to record with two of our listeners (Ryan Tucker and Neil Summers) made the experience all the sweeter. Both have done great work with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and discovered their passion for traditional archery in doing so. It was refreshing to hear about their journey and it made me reflect on mine.

Neil was the inspiration for this post, in fact. He’s been a passionate outdoorsman, content creator, and owner of the website Chasin’ It. He reminded me of 27 year-old-me, in this regard, but has already figured out the key ingredient to the traditional stew — the people. I didn’t understand that at his age. I was driven by the activity and grew to appreciate the community. He was driven by the community and was starting to appreciate the activity. This fascinated me. I began to think about my own journey and remembered how special everything seemed. He doubled down shortly after, citing me and my book Life and Longbows as one of his influences.

I was floored. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I think I said “thanks” or something equally dumb but being an influence wasn’t a label I was accustomed to. I’d been absorbing the work of influencers for years and the idea of being one myself felt surreal. It lent perspective and filled me with purpose. It made me hungry.

The hunger built as the weekend progressed. I would have an amazing conversation with a fellow Michigan Longbow Association member about outdoor literature and could not wait to check out his recommendations. He had collected obscure classics and turned me on to several authors I hadn’t discovered yet, including Gene Hill and Charles K. Fox. He loved consuming old books and assured me there would be plenty more where that came from in the near future. We already have plans to chat at upcoming campfires.

The broadhead that passed through my November doe, was recovered from the earth, and was delivered to me at the Expo.

John (Buchin) would further fan the flames by finding and delivering the arrow I’d sent through a doe last November. He was there to share the moment and knew how important it was to me. The doe had shattered a slump several seasons deep and John wasn’t about to let the artifact rust away beneath the leaves. He tracked it down a week later, following a morning sit. It was a wonderful gesture and the perfect gift. I’d collected the arrow from every whitetail up until that point and was grateful to have the full set.

A very special quiver hood created by Great Norther quivers and designed by my dear friend John Buchin.

John would be responsible for the final source of inspiration as well. He had designed a graphic that represented something both of us held sacred — an oath we’d made and wouldn’t abandon until it was fulfilled. We’d vowed to get a public land turkey, spot-and-stalk, with longbows.

I had already dedicated countless hours and dozens of pages to this oath. They appeared in several publications and graced the final chapter of Life and Longbows. My jaw dropped when I saw what John had designed and asked Bob (Brumm) to engrave. I needed to have a matching quiver of my own and picked up the completed product from the Great Northern booth that Friday. Carrying these into the woods that Spring would be a special story and I was eager to tell it.

The ride home was filled with reflection and excitement. I was eager to write for the first time in months and had a journal begging me to turn it’s chicken-scratched pages into stories. I smiled at the thought. It was time to get back to what I loved. It was time to get to work.

Did you attend the 2020 Traditional Archery Expo? What was your experience? Be sure to check out our latest episode of Traditional Outdoors to hear Steve’s recap of the event and stay tuned for our interview with Neil and Ryan. It will drop soon. If you haven’t picked up a signed copy of Life and Longbows, there are a few copies left in my store. Order one while I still have them in stock. I may not be ordering more for some time.

A “Forest Bath”

A beautiful Autumn reflection.

In a recent Facebook post, I joked about people buying Life and Longbows overseas and being “somewhat relevant in Japan”. A friend commented the popularity of outdoor activities, such as Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” in jest and peaked my curiosity. A quick search led me to a Time Magazine article titled “The Benefits of Forest Bathing” by Dr. Qing Li, who wrote the following about the activity and his book on the topic:

This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world. – Dr. Qing Li

I stopped there. There was no need to read any further. I knew exactly what Dr. Qing was referring to, having experienced something similar a few days prior.

It was a beautiful Autumn evening and I’d made it my mission to spend it at my favorite public land spot in search of the elusive Michigan Whitetail. The 2019 season had been a bust thus far. My work and family life were busy, which meant my hunting life was non-existent. I tend to get irritable when that happens and was looking forward to something more than snappy emails and tornado-stricken playrooms. I needed something green, red, yellow and eventually brown.

I arrived to find the dirt parking lot empty, which was a fantastic start. A Saturday evening in October was almost always a crowded affair here. The odds seemed to be shifting in my favor and I was sure that fate was on my side. I stepped out of the car, slipped my longbow from its sock, and climbed the familiar path into a sea of maples, oaks, and firs.

Opening the senses wouldn’t be a problem. The sight, sounds, and smells of the natural world were well known to every bowhunter and a bow in the hand always meant an adventure afoot. I expected nothing less that evening and would receive more than I bargained for.

The hike in was perfect. The birds began to chirp, the squirrels began to chatter, and the wet ground muffled my feet enough to hear it all the better. I slipped into a trance of sorts. My mind was light and my heart was full. I felt connected to everything and there was a “rightness” in the air that was difficult to explain. I prayed it would never end.

Was this Shinrin-yoku? Possibly. The gap to the natural world had indeed been bridged but I wasn’t ready for what awaited me on the other side.

My hunting spot sat atop a ridge of red oaks with pine barrens to the west and a marshy creek to the east. It was a well-used whitetail corridor and I believed a savvy bowhunter could do well with a little patience and the proper wind. I had plenty of both that night but would need to cross the creek to make it happen.

With a depth of 6-8″ and a width of 2-3′ feet it wasn’t the most formidable body of water in the state, but what it lacked in statistics it made up for with annoyance. We had a history – this creek and I. I’d crossed it dozens of times and always ended up dirtier on the other side, regardless of the approach. I was certain the result of this trip would be the same and I didn’t care. It kept other hunters away and that was fine with me. Besides, I was one with the forest – Shinrin-yoku – and not at all concerned with muddy boots. I confidently strolled to the bank, stepped to the edge and prepared to jump.

I’d never been a fan of jumping. I disliked it when I was a chunky ten-year-old and loathed it post-35 when everything started to hurt. It was an awkward skill and I always looked awkward doing it. I learned early on that some of us were born to soar and others to sink, which is exactly what my left foot did before leaving the bank – it sank – the instant I put pressure on it. I was on my backside, staring at a muddy stump with little hope of freeing the leg beneath it.

The soothing serenity of the evening vanished, as I shoveled through the mud and muck. Shinrin-yoku had become too literal for my taste. My senses were still open but the stimuli had changed for the worst. I’d traded leaves for mud, mosquitos for birds, and crisp Autumn air for the smell of my own sweat. I was angry, humiliated, and planned on leaving the moment I freed myself.

Then something peculiar happened. With a final yank, my boot popped free, and relief followed. My anxiety was gone and I felt terrific – even better than I had before the accident happened. The hunt would continue. I scraped my mud-caked boot against a tree, and proceeded up the ridge to finish the hunt. It was cold, my pants were wet, and the rest of the evening was uneventful, but none of it mattered. I sat there, grinning like a fool, until the sun sank behind the pines.

Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness. – Dr. Qing Li

Now that I know more about Dr. Qing Li and forest bathing, I can’t help but wonder if he had considered scenarios like these when he wrote his book. Would he consider my forest bath a “forest bath” and add “sinking into a muddy hole” to his list of ways to connect to nature?

I doubt it. But he should.

If you like what you are reading, please consider buying my book, Life and Longbows. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. You can also purchase a personalized copy on this site. Visit my Bookshelf to do so. If you like outdoor related content in podcast form, check out the Traditional Outdoors podcast.