Salvation comes with a shovel, or maybe other old-school technology
Sometimes it seems that the only thing to look forward to in the first half of December is skipping through to the last half of December.
It’s definitely not Wisconsin’s greatest outdoor season. The days are ever shorter, winter sports haven’t begun, and about the time we’ve finished our 87th coffee and are finally energetic enough to rouse from our desks, it’s dark outside.
But we’re almost there. In a couple of weeks, the winter solstice will have come and gone and we’ll be on a nice easy climb to summer, needing only to avoid a few dangerous crevasses as deep and shadowy as some of our so-called leaders’ souls.
As for these past few gloomy days, I got through with a shovel, a search for a traditional archer’s bow and a quick walk in Rogers Park.
One man’s pain, another man’s pastime
Most folks have a little crazy uncle in in them, and one of my major quirks is that I like to shovel snow. When Sunday brought several inches, I was perfectly happy to leave the stress of televised football and go outside to blaze my own trail through the wilderness near downtown Point.
I relate this because it has everything to do with the idea of outdoor recreation. One of the key purposes of getting outside is simply that: going outside.
It’s why we always tell our kids to vamoose. Once outside the house, we find something to do, and we’re usually better off for it.
As much as I love professional football, the couch made me uncomfortably restless this weekend. So I went out and grabbed my heavy, steel-bladed snow pusher with the flat face that is perfect for scraping down to the asphalt and horrible for tossing snow off to the side.
That means a disciplined, muscle-churning workout. It takes strength and perfect control to keep wet, heavy snow on the blade and then pitch it far enough away from the curb or the end of your driveway where you can’t afford the buildup.
Most of my day job involves Jedi mind tricks and rhetorical strategerosity to convince recalcitrant undergraduates of the joys of good grammar and actual facts. Therefore, by early December, I’m perfectly happy to chuck my brain out like a shovelful of slush and do a couple of hours of honest work.
I guess that makes me old school, and that leads me to my next point, which is that I’ve decided to take up archery, but only the traditional kind.
From what I can tell, this means I commit to a slightly more difficult physical experience, as traditional longbows and recurves don’t have the cams and pulleys that reduce requirements for the muscular power to let an arrow fly.
During online research, I even ran across an “archery yoga” class that apparently helps with the muscle tone, flexibility and breathing practices needed for true shots.
About three years ago, I beat a half-dozen suburban dads from the Twin Cities to win first place in the Camp Nawakwa archery tournament. I believe that would probably put me somewhere in the top 900 million or so archers worldwide, assuming that about a billion people might have either practiced archery one or more times or perhaps at least seen bows and arrows before.
I’ve also earned every star in the PlayStation 3 Sports Champions archery contest, defeating some awfully bad hombres with names like Morgrimm the Black and Titus Maximus, plus about three cartoonish ladies with impossibly athletic figures and assertive but winning personalities. Ooo-hooh!
More importantly, I discovered in accomplishing those amazing feats that I love seeking the focus required from disciplined physical form and an emptied mind that zeroes in on a target.
Whether real or virtual, archery brings me quickly into the psychological state known as “flow,” where little to nothing exists but ourselves and a goal, when time stands still and we feel states of both competence and challenge.
So now I’m on the search for a bow. After that, some places to shoot it.
I’ve seen a bunch of steroid-addled compound hunting bows in our local farm and hardware stores. They all seem to have cams and pulleys, gears and pistons, chutes and ladders, and automated backup cameras with single-serve espresso pods, but it has been the traditional hardwood bows with their smooth faces and beautiful grains that have caught my eye.
Despite being relatively fit for a middle-aged geezer, I tried drawing a traditional bow in a Madison-area outdoor superstore and was surprised by the effort needed. I realized I’d better research a bit more and have done so as possible, but it’s time to stop the dawdling and simply buy a bow.
Easier said than done. I called a couple of regional archery stores who both said they don’t deal in traditional bows. I will visit a local store with a limited selection, from what I understand, but expect to have a bow and be trying it out before too long.
Watch out, suburban dads and cartoon vamps.
Cross-country season almost here, we hope
Of course, even snow shoveling and the promise of summer archery can’t sustain a guy forever, so I was sure to take a brief hike when I could early in the week. I headed through Rogers Park to part of the Green Circle’s cross-country skiing trail before it is groomed and, at least theoretically, off limits to foot traffic.
After parking at the end of Hofmeister Drive just east of the interstate, I spent about an hour walking along the Plover River.
Even though it was only about 30 degrees out, I was struck by how cold I felt. It was slightly windy, but I think the chill was a combination of not yet being used to the idea of winter and a bit of general tiredness.
There’s too much highway noise for my taste along that stretch of the river, and the initial part of the trail, where it runs behind several homes south of the airport, doesn’t feel very isolated.
But once out of the neighborhood, a walker is likely to encounter almost nobody at this time of year. I ran into one dog-walker unconcerned about the trail’s leash rules, but otherwise had the riverside to myself.
I went as far as the broad horseshoe bend in the Plover where the yellow and orange loops of the skiing trail meet. There, I sat on a bench and enjoyed the peacefulness in the air and the whiteness of the snowy forest where it surrounded the still-flowing river.
It was a fine way to ready myself for the two dimmest weeks of the year.