SHOOTING THE BREEZE | Sharon Henry
“What’s this going to appear in, Playboy?” teases 71 year old Larry Parker when we ask for a photo for the blog. Larry is hardly Playboy Bunny material, more like a slim, badass version of Santa Claus. All the same he holds still long enough for us to get a good shot. We’ve only just met Larry but he’s instantly likeable.
Southern Traditional Archery with Katniss
It’s a scorching day and we’re sheltering under an inadequately small gazebo that is attempting to ward off the sun’s harsh rays. We’re at the Winterville Mounds, Mississippi and Larry’s just finished teaching a bunch of kids to shoot a bow and arrow during their school holidays, part of the ‘Catch A Dream’ charity programme.
Amanda Simpson (18), a former student, now Larry’s protégé is training to compete in national competition. She’s talented, like a real life Katniss Everdeen. Darrin’s studiously following her instruction for hitting the target, which funnily enough is a bear; albeit a foam one, they are not his most favourite of things.
“Pull all the way back to the chin, look down the arrow as if you’re looking down a gun barrel,” says Amanda. Darrin’s arrow hits dead centre impressing us all. “Beginner’s luck?” he grins.
Catch A Dream, Mississippi – Children’s Charity
Larry and Amanda are sponsored by the Southern Traditional Archery Association, a charity based in Mississippi who as the name suggests aims to keep old methods alive. They have a ‘Catch A Dream’ programme that raises money to help terminally ill kids.
This ‘Catch A Dream’ programme, however, is a little different to what we’re used to on St Helena or indeed UK.
“The association sends terminally ill children and their families on a once in a lifetime hunting and fishing trip,” says Larry. “Some people don’t like that because they say it teaches violence against animals. And they say that while wearing their leather belts and eating steak dinners,” he shrugs.
Last year almost $18,000 was raised. “With a cost of $4,000 a trip we can send a lot of really sick kids and their families,” says Larry. Catch A Dream’s purpose is to fill the ‘gap’ created when the Make-A-Wish Foundation established national policy that precludes granting a child a wish that involves hunting and use of weapons.
Naked and Afraid: How To Avoid Bears
Larry’s the kind of person you’d want on your team in a survival situation. His knowledge of making traditional bows and arrows was utilised by the Winterville Mounds museum who commissioned an exhibit using arrow heads excavated from the mounds. He is also involved with the museum’s annual four-day Native American festival where he coaches archery to up to 4,000 people from his booth. It’s clear he’s devoted to promoting and sharing the skills.
Hearing about Darrin’s fear of bears Larry offers his advice on bear encounters, (even though he hasn’t seen any himself.) “They are not aggressive unless she’s got cubs. The best thing you can do is sing or stomp your feet, clap your hands or have bells on your walking stick. Let them know you are coming so you don’t surprise them.” Darrin still doesn’t look convinced; we’ll not be hiking in the woods anytime soon.
“That one right there,” says Amanda pointing at the target, “is not going to bother you!”
My turn to shoot and I hopelessly miss the target altogether. “The wind probably got that,” Amanda graciously pipes in. It also takes the rest of my arrows.