Archery is a powerful antidote to the anxieties of pandemic life

Monday mornings are great if you experience the feeling of being shot out of a cannon. As soon as you wake up, start dressing your wild 5 year old, feeding him, brushing him, and protecting him from the sun. Pack your lunch with a sneak peek at your phone for all the emails, Slack messages, and news events you missed over the weekend. Take the child and all her belongings to school.

Next comes a series of phone and zoom meetings. First, a daily contact call with other managers. Then call all the members of your team. Then another call from managers to contact the database for updates from checks.

And in between calls, practice shooting: 10 arrows per round, at a distance of 10 to 30 yards.

A man in a blue shirt reaches for a quiver of arrows.

Archer Sai Sriskandaraja takes an arrow from his quiver.

(Ian Bates / For The Times)

Most Mondays I am content with shooting targets in the corner of my backyard. On a fine day, I can drive a mile to the archery range where UC Berkeley Olympic contenders train and answer calls there. From time to time I even shoot when I answer the phone.

Attach the arrow to the rope. “Oh yes?” Paint. “Interesting.” Anchor. “When does this happen?” Release. Ooooooooooooooooooo.

When the pandemic hit, many turned to baking sourdough or rewatching The Sopranos. I bought an onion. I’ve always been a bit apocalyptic in my thinking, and the lack of supplies in the supermarkets and the general feeling of dread has evoked something primal in me: if things get really bad and we have to go into the woods, how am I going to feed my family?

Two men with bows and arrows are walking along the path.

Sai Sriskandaraja and Jeff Berkovichi stroll upstream at Oakland’s Redwood Bowmen, where archers of all skill levels can “hunt” paper turkeys, wolves and elk.

(Ian Bates / For The Times)

Millions of like-minded Americans have made a historic foray into guns and ammunition. I had no desire to be part of this grim phenomenon, but bow? It looked like me. Growing up in Wisconsin, I learned archery at summer camp and in high school gym classes and remembered that I was good at it.

I found a used $60 starter bow, including accessories, on Craigslist. The limbs were twisted, the arrows did not match. But after I fired a round with them, I got hooked. The pleasure is hard to describe, but it has something to do with the hiss of an arrow piercing the air and the slap on impact: Ooooooooooooooooooo.

I talked my friend Cy into buying a bow, and we would meet at the UC Berkeley range at the end of the day, or drive into the Oakland hills to an amazing footpath where we could shoot paper images of bears and turkeys in formation. along the spine line. We were quick to buy the best bows and arrows, read archery blogs for technical advice, and seriously debated whether we needed our own fletches to replace damaged feathers.

Mechanically, archery is simple compared to most sports. If done right, it’s the same action every time. If you point the arrow in the right direction and do nothing to knock that target down, such as gripping the handle too hard, it will hit the target.

As it turned out, I was still quite good at archery. But as I learned, in order to be better than just OK, I had to reckon with the part of my mind that motivated me to seek it out in the first place.

Jeff Bercovici draws a bow.

The author draws his bow before shooting at a target in the backyard.

(Ian Bates / For The Times)

Counting hits on a moose target.

We shoot a paper moose in the vital organs: a tonic at the sight of empty supermarket shelves.

(Ian Bates / For The Times)

Archery is older than history itself, and evidence of its practice goes back deep into the Stone Age. It is so old that it has been in decline for 500 years, as the advent of firearms made bows obsolete on the battlefield. However, as a sport it experienced a renaissance in the 1950s and 60s with the invention of the compound bow (with all cables and pulleys) and other advances in technology and design that made shooting more accessible.

It could be another comeback thanks to the pandemic, says Chriss Bowles, president of the California Bowmen Hunters/State Archery Assn. Hard numbers are hard to come by, but the Oranco Bowmen in Chino, where Bowles is range captain, has increased its membership by over 30% since March 2020.

“People want to be together and they want to be outside,” he said. He also attributed some of the popularity to survivors’ fears that lured me into a trap: “If you find yourself in a Hunger Games scenario, can you see it through to the end?”

Two men hold bows at the shooting range.

Jeff Berkovichi (left) and Sai Sriskandaraja warm up at the Redwood Bowmen training ground.

(Ian Bates / For The Times)

For fans of modernity, there is no shortage of equipment to increase accuracy – fiber optic sights, laser rangefinders, stabilizers. But I quickly realized that in archery I crave simplicity: the pure feel and atavistic beauty of a solid wooden recurve bow, aimed without a scope or other equipment—instinctively—with both eyes open. Many traditional archers prefer the simplicity of instinctive aiming, but this takes a lot of practice.

And I needed practice, judging by my scattered results. It wasn’t until I set up the target in the corner of my little backyard where the stucco wall meets the ivy-covered wooden fence, and started shooting at it daily, that I got a taste of everything that remotely resembled the beginning of craftsmanship. .

Shooting hundreds of arrows a week under almost the same conditions, I began to notice small differences in my performance and associate them with results. Redrawing or dragging the arrow back past the anchor point—when the tip of my index finger touches the corner of my mouth—was causing misses on the left. The painting made blows from the bottom; pinched release, high.

Archery bag.

A well-used author’s backyard target bag.

(Ian Bates / For The Times)

Often, when I ran my mind over failed shots to analyze them, I found myself firing the arrow without a conscious act of will. It was as if my fingers were in charge of the decision while my mind was running down to see where it had landed.

I have a bad habit of racing ahead in my thoughts to avoid moments of even the slightest discomfort. On the phone with an old friend, I’ll say: “Well, it was great to talk with you …”, when the conversation is just flaring up. Every year or two I try to meditate for a few weeks, only to use that time to make mental to-do lists.

To become a better archer, I needed to get rid of this habit. I needed to learn to slow down, stop there, and be fully aware of my actions. The problem is, it’s hard. Holding the bow at full draw is like hanging in a pull-up: it’s not something you can do for very long, over and over again. As I seek a moment of mental and physical calm to observe and correct my form, I feel my left hand begin to tremble and my string fingers scream at me to just hurry up and LET GO ALREADY.

Column 1

A showcase of compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Times.

Many years ago, around the time of my sister’s death and the breakdown of my first marriage, I began seeing a therapist. I came to her with the feeling that my life was a leaving train, that I must act decisively, but I was paralyzed by the fear that any action I take would lead to disaster. Week after week, she just taught me to be patient and do as little as possible so as not to get away from the feeling of panic until the feeling of crisis dissipated. As it gradually happened.

There is no shortage of reasons to panic in the world right now. Do I have to pick up my child from school before the next COVID wave or school shooting? Move my family out of California before next fire season? Should I be saving up toilet paper, batteries, or bitcoin for the next economic crisis? Of course, these are all real questions – that’s why they deserve the attention of a calm, calm mind.

Jeff Bercovici shoots a bow at the Redwood Bowmen.

Another moment of silence, I hope.

(Ian Bates / For The Times)

So, on Monday mornings, or whenever I feel like I’m stepping out of a gun, I always take my bow out of its case, bend its limbs and put the string loops on the ends, fasten my hip quiver and practice finding that elusive moment of silence. .

Paint. Anchor. Release. TxxxxxxVOP.