The clear blue sky passed above me, framed in the open hatch, the perfect square making it difficult to tell that we were actually moving. In fact, if it wasn’t for the swelling movement of the hull below me, I wouldn’t know. I was taking refuge in the V berth of our small boat from the Pacific Northwest sun, a new book picked up at our last port in my hand. Lazing about, I resisted the urge to open its pages, choosing instead to watch the sun pop in and out of the hatchway as we rocked back and forth with the sea.
I finally looked at the book; it was small, fitting in my hand quite easily, which was good considering heavy books didn’t work so well with the movement of a boat. On the cover was a line drawing of a forest, a distant castle, a man holding a long bow at draw, dressed in cut and slash costume coloured with pinks and red hues. A mighty sword hung at his side, with a quiver full of arrows as its mate. Great green forest stretched out behind him offsetting the sharp yellow goatee upon his face. He cut a dashing figure, one that said adventure, excitement and romance.
If you haven’t guessed it already, this was my first copy of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. It was in these pages over the next few weeks, as we cruised around Desolation Sound in British Columbia that my archery adventure began. During that first summer I read those tales over and over; Robin becomes an Outlaw, Robin gets his butt kicked by Little John, Robin Hood meets friar Tuck getting another dunking. Slowly he begins to stand up for the little guy, to enact chivalry while being the trickster, his longbow, arrows and sword forever at his side.
Robin Hood shaped who I was as a child, who I wanted to be as I grew up in a tumultuous yet adventurous childhood. Nowhere could hold him, he was beholden to no man, living the life he wished in the greenwood and surrounded by loyal friends who helped him right the wrongs brought on by corruption. To say that this book and subsequent versions of the Outlaw tale shaped my life and started a lifelong fascination with archery would be an understatement.
Even though I now mostly shoot Asiatic composites and modern recurve bows, the simple stick bow will forever hold a place in my archery heart. It is the weapon of everyman, a true touch of nature if you will. One must understand the wood in order to craft it into a bow. Every bow is a work of art but the longbow, from the mighty war bow to the elegant Victorian longbow, is still a simple, uncomplicated stick shaped with love, crafted with care and embodying the soul of its home: England.
So it is off to England we go, first to the Mary Rose war bows, the closest we have to a medieval longbow and then to the home of the man himself, Sherwood. Perhaps I will meet Robin Hood amongst the oaks or hear the three blows of his horn.