Getting to the heart of “In the Heart of the Sea”

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I recently watched a Ron Howard movie called In The Heart of the SeaFor those of you who haven’t seen the film or have little desire and just want to know why I’m referring to it in a bowhunting blog, you can find the trailer here and the plot below:

Note: the following contains spoilers. STOP NOW if you intend to see the film.

In 1850, author Herman Melville visits innkeeper Thomas Nickerson, the cabin boy and last survivor of the whale ship Essex, which sank somewhere in the Pacific ocean after being stoved in two by a gigantic, albino sperm whale. Several sailers are killed in the attack and the survivors are forced into the sea in their whaling skiffs. Tragedy follows as they traverse miles of open ocean, are attacked by the whale (who is now trailing them), and escape to Henderson Island. Tragedy strikes again, as they run out of food on the tiny island and realize they aren’t going to last long if they all stay. Four men decide to remain for various reasons. The rest decide to leave with the hopes of finding land. After months of being adrift the men are in dire straits and resort to cannibalism to stay alive. Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, the whale approaches a third time. Master whaler Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) has a chance to kill the whale as it offers it’s flank, but cannot bring himself to do it after looking in the animal’s eyes. The whale then leaves (without attacking) and swims off into the sea. Chase is scolded for not killing the monster and the boats drift apart in the current. One boat is rescued following their separation. Chase and Nickerson are in the boat that isn’t rescued and end up drifting into a South American harbor. (Go here for a more detailed rundown of the movie.)

Moby Dick is one of my favorite works of fiction and I’m a sucker for movies featuring huge, supernatural monsters. I didn’t expect the movie to have a strong plot or change my life in a profound way. Rather, I approached it with a mug of beer and the expectation of being entertained. This was true for the most part. The movie held my attention from beginning to end and the scenes featuring the whale were incredible but I walked way in deeper thought than expected.

Fist, I loved the Owen Chase character and Hemsworth’s portrayal of him. He’s a seasoned hunter and an adventurer, but also a family man with a young son and a pregnant wife at home. He loves his family but cannot resist the pull of the sea and thrill of the chase. Any hunter who has left his/her family for a hunting trip can relate. The draw to the woods is irresistible. Leaving the ones that love you most is wrenching. “Hunter’s guilt” is very real and evident in Chase. It was a trip to get inside the head of a professional whaler in the 1800s, as well. While barbaric in nature, whaling was a necessary evil and a business. It was also a very dangerous pursuit for the men involved and taxing for their families on shore. I found myself relating to Chase as he kissed his family goodbye and joined the crew for the hunt.

Once at sea, there were two scenes that really struck me. The first is Chase and crew’s first hunt and successful harvest aboard the Essex. They encounter a herd of sperm whales and immediately set out after them in their skiffs. Chase comes alive in this scene, as the boat glides amidst the giant mammals. You can tell this is his favorite part of the hunt and what he lives for. Hemsworth does a fantastic job selling the raw excitement of what it feels like to be a hunter pursuing an animal, which couldn’t have been an easy feat, considering the whales around him are CGI.

The climax of the scene is the harvest. They separate a large bull and Chase does what he is paid to do. The whale puts up a fantastic fight but eventually tires itself out and is finished off by Chase and crew. This part of the scene isn’t for the feint of heart and is quite sad, but that is what is special about it. You notice a change in Chase when the whale surfaces and he delivers the killing blows. The excitement has wained and the reality of what he has done has set in. You can see it in his eyes, the blood on his face, and in his body language. It is obvious he has a deep respect for the animal and the pursuit is what matters most to him. The killing is simply an ugly means to an end.

Hemsworth deserves major kudos for capturing this moment. It is one any bowhunter can relate to and appreciate. The resources an animal provides are fruitful but it is the thrill of the pursuit – the challenge – that drives us to do what we do. If we didn’t have a special bond with the animals we hunt, we wouldn’t be using sticks with strings at intimate distances to get the job done.

The second scene is Chase’s sparing of the albino whale. I’m sure an entire post could be dedicated to why he let the monster go, but I’ll summarize with a few of mine:

1) He was near death and knew the whale would kill him in the aftermath of being harpooned a second time.
2) He suspected this was no ordinary whale and couldn’t be killed by a man.
3) Karma. He believed they had provoked the whale and deserved it’s wrath.

These are all viable reasons with plenty of evidence to back them up, yet I’m more inclined to believe there is another possibility that stayed Chase’s harpoon – the respect of a worthy adversary. Any bowhunter who has been at it long enough has encountered an animal that took their absolute best and walked off without a scratch. These always make the best stories. A hunter does all the prep work, puts in the time, does everything right, but is repeatedly bested by the animal (my hunting buddy Steve Angell wrote a wonderful example here). Experiencing such a thing is quite special. There is no greater illustration of the bond between hunter and game. The scene addresses the bond quite well and probably could’ve ended it right there, despite drawing on another 20 minutes to wrap up the necessary loose ends.

Overall, I enjoyed the film immensely. I think that any bowhunter (traditionalists in particular) will find it entertaining and will probably have some of the same thoughts I expressed above. Feel free to share in the comments if so.

In the Heart of the Sea is the movie adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s book of the same name. You can check that out on Amazon or Kindle here. I intend to.

 

 

A New Adventure

The Traditional Outdoors Podcast

It’s funny how quickly things can change.

In late 2017, Imade a post about the podcast world and how I didn’t intend on participating. I enjoyed several at the time but didn’t feel it was the right medium to share my content. A podcast seemed like a major investment — and I don’t mean financially. I didn’t feel I would be able to produce quality content on a consistent basis. I didn’t have a partner. I didn’t have the equipment. I had connections but lacked the time to line up the interviews I thought I would need to make the podcast interesting. Above all else, I didn’t have a clue. I’d listened to podcasts but never participated.

Then something funny happened. I was reacquainted with my first love (the guitar) and did what any other 30-something male would do: joined a slew of online music communities on Facebook. The re-immersion led to my meeting and chatting with several like-minded musicians who also happened to be podcasters. One of these people was Clifton Worley of The Clifton Worley Show who I discovered had many of the same musical tastes and interests.

Clifton’s passion for networking led to the forming of his show, which was based on discussing guitars and music with average musicians from the various groups we were associated with. You didn’t have to be a professional to be on Clifton’s show and I fell in love with that concept. After several weeks of listening to Clifton and his guests, I reached out to Clifton and shamelessly implied it should be “my turn”.

We shared a laugh, I joined him on the show, and it was a blast. We became fast friends and I ended up joining him and our mutual friend (and digital illustrator) Joshua Fraser on a frequent basis. I realized then, as Clifton’s show became “our” show, what podcasting was about, and how much I enjoyed it.

I wanted to do a project of my own and considered doing it under the Life and Longbows brand. However, I still didn’t have a partner. Several people had approached me about it, but no one was ready to make the commitment. Plus, I still wasn’t convinced I could produce enough traditional archery content to make a solid podcast. The Push, Trad Geeks, TradQuest, the Traditional Bowhunting and Wilderness Podcast, and others were already doing an amazing job on the interview and educate circuit and I didn’t see the value of regurgitating that content. It has and is already being done. This put me in quite the quandary mentally. It bummed me out.

Then, something funny happened. My friend and hunting partner Steve (Angell) of Simply Traditional, reached out to me and wondered if I would consider revisiting the podcast idea, but he wanted to take it beyond the traditional archery/bowhunting niche.

“Let’s pull it outside the Life and Longbows and Simply Traditional brand and do something dedicated to life in the outdoors.” He said.

I balked at first. Anything beyond bowhunting and a bit of camping was outside my expertise and comfort zone. And I didn’t dare refer to myself as anything but an amateur in the aforementioned fields.

“I don’t know about any of that, man.” I laughed. “You’re going to need to find guests because I’m not at all comfortable speaking to anything beyond the world of bows and arrows.”

I had pretty much written me being a guest-host off at that point, but he assured me that wasn’t the angle he was going for and went so far as to say that my naivety to the topics would provide a “newbie” perspective to the show.

I was officially out of excuses. I knew I could make the time to talk to my friend once a week and I knew I could play the role of “happy amateur”.

So, we brainstormed, lined up some interviews, set a date to record, and made a podcast. Just like that “Traditional Outdoors” was born and I believe it will be a successful venture. It should be entertaining at the very least and we’ll be thrilled if you learn something!

All that being said, we’ll need your support to get this up and running. You can start by checking out our website, which will both house the podcast and feature links to articles collected from across the Web (including this blog). We’d also like to invite you to our Facebook group, where the bulk of our conversations will take place. The primary goal of Traditional Outdoors is to create an outdoor community filled with enthusiasts that have integrity and love and support our natural resources and the activities therein.

The first episode of the podcast should launch very soon! Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe and tell your friends. There will be multiple ways to do so.

We’ll see you at the campfire!