The Squirrel Chronicles: Letters to the city

©Dean Torges/The Bowyer's Edge™


Dear Jan,

Crept along with a gray squirrel this morning in Southern Ohio, narrowing the gap until I earned a close opportunity. The shot seemed good. He was aware of me, so I'm pretty sure he ducked. It happens, their reflexes are that quick. The arrow whacked the limb behind him and rebounded toward me. I watched the squirrel, hoping for another shot, but grays won't stick around to razz you like fox squirrels sometimes do.

An arrow is never lost until you quit looking for it. I couldn't find this one, but I couldn't quit looking for it either. It was stalemate: me evenly matched against myself.

I reconstructed the event, sequence by sequence—remembering where the squirrel had been, the shot, the arrow resounding and bouncing back while I focused on the squirrel fleeing. Long sleuthing paid off. I discovered the blade, wrenched from the blunt head, centered in the limb precisely behind br'er squirrel's perch, about 8 ft off the ground. Palpable evidence. There could be no mistaking the location or the sequence now. I felt I had cornered my real quarry. Yet no matter how many times I replayed the sequence, there was no finding the arrow.

Mysteries sufficient to occupy a man through his lifetime surround him, from the light of dead stars in the vaulted heavens, to the clutter obscuring the inner sanctum of his heart. Some mysteries extend beyond his wisdom and knowledge, humbling him and thereby enriching his life. So where along the spectrum of understanding ranks an arrow vanished in plain sight? Was it mystery, cosmic absurdity, or had I glimpsed profound archery magic, a suspension of natural law in the disguise of a routine and normal event? Part of me was determined to find the arrow, even as part of me thrilled to the possibility I wouldn't.

I tore apart a nearby brush pile, but it confessed nothing. I looked back into the scrub tree, followed each branch, and only found branches. I poked around in grass and weeds until I'd trampled everything flat and torn everything bare. Still, no arrow.

Arrows only cost, what, a coupla bucks each to assemble? Time is money and opportunities to hunt are limited. Why squander time looking for one arrow? I grow impatient in the company of archers when one misses a target and we search exhaustively for his arrow. I know where it is. It's under the duff or in the brush. We wear away the day when such arrows should be sacrificed and more arrows risked.

Although losing arrows is no big deal, no lapse of honor, the arrow itself is more than a projectile, beyond an object of invested skill, ancient craft and human ingenuity. The arrow represents the best part of the archer. It gives wings to his thoughts, direction to his wishes, and sometimes, with a life measured at the end of its blade, it provides answers to his prayers.

Imagine: You pull back a strong bow with your own sinew and muscle, your own thought and effort invested in its hand-wrought creation. From it you loose an arrow crafted and trained to be straight and true. You watch that arrow go where you fancy being, flying to that place silently, swiftly, because you willed yourself there. Adkins, what can compare to that? Bungee jumping? Exploring the universe through pharmacology? Flying airplanes? Out-of-body fantasies, teletransportation, remote viewing?

Not hardly for me, Jan. These are passive flights, involving you more as spectator than participant. Even a double barrel roll in an airplane inspires more wonder as technological marvel than cockpit triumph. No, not for me or for anyone who has thrilled to the bow and arrow. My bows may not be as strong or as steady as they once were, but I still have days when feathered glory waves from whatever attracts my attention. Clod, stump, leaf, twig. I look, I coil, I spring and I am there. Time after time after time, blurring all distinctions between wishes and reality.

Anyone who achieves some mastery over a skill is, in time, humbled to realize how little he truly understands or accomplishes. Classical archery offers up an assurance to that realization by way of a window. When he cares to look, an archer can see past his wooden bow and arrow all the way back to ancestors crouched naked and terrified at night. He can see how they came by food, clothing, fire and music itself with weapons not dissimilar from his. And he understands the urgency under which those skills developed and flowered. If he tries, he can glimpse the spiritual life of the most civil society humankind has ever experienced—the society of the hunter/gatherer. A modern archer with a bent stick and a feathered shaft stands in their view when he strikes his mark, and by their side when he takes game. If he looks, he sees it as humanity's triumph, not his.

Many of our generation focus on bow construction and the heightened performance levels made possible through modern materials married to new designs. It's easy to lose sight of old bones from such a perspective, and even easier to overlook the importance of arrows, viewing them only as store-bought components quickly and inexpensively assembled. However, the abiding truth from then to now is that the lithe bow may launch our dreams and aspirations, but the keen arrow embodies them.

I've lost arrows before, Jan. Plenty. Each squirrel season begins with a five gallon bucket stuffed with bladed blunts, and I break or lose almost as many more with field points through the course of summer shooting. But this arrow was not one hidden beyond my patience to look for it. This arrow sped to the mark and disappeared into thin air before my eyes. As such, what could I do? Quit searching? Walk away from it? Where could I be without it?