I stood in front of the class and made eye contact with the English teacher. I had a fully strung compound hunting bow in my left hand. The bow was fully equipped with string silencers and a mounted quiver with four broadhead arrows, each sporting razor blade inserts at the ready . I had my arm guard and shooting glove in place and the fifth arrow of the set, notched to the string and ready to fly. All I had to do was raise the bow and pull the string back. “Can we talk about my grade now?” I asked. There was a moment of silence and everyone took a breath.
Okay, that sounds like the beginning of a dimestore novel, but the moment above did indeed take place in my sophomore year of high school. What triggered the memory was a recent discussion Jan Tucker’s crew had about the reason that schools started taking off the first day of deer season. Having many staff members asking for opening day off (not to mention scores of students) more or less forced school districts to adopt the opening day of deer season as another holiday in the school schedule.
Jan mentioned that it wasn’t uncommon for kids to have their deer rifles in the trunk of their car in the school parking lot so they could head to the woods as soon as school was over. It reminded me of a U.P. school that went into panic mode one year when a student discovered that he had accidentally left a shotgun shell in the pocket of the coat he wore to school after bird hunting in the same coat the day before. There was a time when this would have been handled with a shrug but the past decade has turned innocent mistakes like this into full fledge school lockdowns. When I compare the kinds of things that happened in and around schools in my student days to more recent times, Dylan’s lyric from 1964 comes to mind: “The times, they are a-changin.”
Sophomore English meant “speech class” to those of us who had to take the class (and that was everyone as it was a requirement in my school days). When we got to the demonstration speech, I was totally flummoxed as to what to talk about. My brother, an avid bow hunter, suggested the sport for my topic. “I am not a deer hunter or a bow hunter for that matter,” was my first response. He reminded me that we had been target shooting with a bow for as long as he could remember. “I can show you what all the gear is used for and all you will have to do is describe the equipment, string the bow, and forget to mention that you have never killed anything with a bow in your life,” was his final argument. I had nothing else in my well of ideas, so I ran with it.
Living all of two and a half blocks from the high school, I walked to school everyday. The day of my speech was no different, except for the gig bag I was toting with all of my visual aids. The school door closest to my house was right next to the main office, so naturally, I stopped by and asked the nice secretary there if I could store my bow in the office until just before my sixth period speech class. “It won’t fit in my locker,” is how I pitched to her. She didn’t bat an eye or even ask my name. “Sure.” she said, “I’ll just set it back here by my desk.” On the way from fifth to sixth hour, I dropped by, gathered my bagged weapon and trotted down the hall, up the stairs, and into English 10.
I do not recall feeling any pressure before it was my turn to speak. Any class that involves speaking in front of your classmates will present a mixed bag of topics. The same can be said about the speakers themselves: some nervous affectations may appear, and some speakers will be more inspired than others. I remember Judy Bojannen giving such an over the top rendition of the Edgar Allen Poe poem The Bells that she was literally frothing at the mouth as she spit out the last stanzas (In a happy Runic rhyme, To the rolling of the bells — Of the bells, bells, bells — To the tolling of the bells, Of the bells, bells, bells, bells — Bells, bells, bells — To the moaning and the groaning of the bells). I also recall her getting a LOT of praise and a well deserved ‘A’ for her efforts. This was a class where you had to make a mark so I knew I had to at least sound like I knew what I was talking about.
My first move may have backfired if I had gotten the wrong response, but I opened with a simple inquiry: “Are there any bow hunters in the class?” Not one arm was raised nor were there any knowing nods of approval. Suddenly, I felt like I was the only “expert” bowhunter in the room and I forged head from my icebreaker to the spot I had originally intended to start: “Today I am going to be speaking about the sport of bowhunting.” It was well after I had finished that it dawned on me that if a couple of people had said, “Oh yeah, I love bowhunting!” It may have turned my nervous dial to ‘10’, but as I said, this didn’t occur to me in that spontaneous moment when the words crossed my lips.
I ran through the inventory of things in the bow’s carrying bag while describing their functions and the various types of arrows that can be used for target practice or hunting. As I talked about the bow itself, I showed how to string it and started putting the arrows on the quiver. I pointed out the little tassle used to clean the arrows and the silencers used to dampen the string’s vibrations. The arm guard and shooting glove came last and I fully intended to end my speech after showing how to notch the arrow to the string. My second impulsive act of the day was to make eye contact with the teacher and ask her the question about discussing my grade.
Flash forward to the present day and I can only find four or five points in this whole story where I would have been slapped in chains and hauled away if this scene played out today. I can only speculate about the response I would get if I walked into the office in the present and asked if I could do all the things I described from my own school experiences from 1968.
meant “changing for the better or for the worse”. The last verse of the song is: “The line it is drawn, The curse it is cast, The Slow one now, Will later be fast, As the present now, Will later be past, The order is rapidly fadin’, And the first one now, Will later be last, For the times they are a-changin.” I suppose if you are the one being changed or are the one pushing for the change makes a difference in the ‘better’ or ‘worse’ debate, but no matter how much we wish it not to be, time marches on and things change.
After a moment of silence, my English teacher smiled broadly and said enthusiastically, “Oh that was wonderful!” She nicked me on a couple of things concerning eye contact but her two favorite parts of my speech? She loved the ice-breaking question and my ending. In other words, she liked the things I tossed in on the spur of the moment. When I recounted the whole affair to my family at dinner that night and got to the “can we discuss my grade?” part, my dad said, “Oh, you didn’t say that, did you?” I assured him that it was one of her favorite parts of the speech and he just shook his head.
On my first trip to the new WOAS-FM west coast bureau in Eugene, OR last summer, I tried my hand at virtual archery on Wii. I am still a pretty good shot, but it isn’t exactly the same as the real thing.
Certainly the equipment for virtual archery is much different than the real thing. I am also sure holding the Wii controller/bow and asking the teacher about my grade would not have had the same impact. I wonder if Dylan would be vilified for doing Wii archery instead of the real thing with the same ferocity he was attacked for ‘going electric’ at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965? It was a different time and a different place. It doesn’t make today ‘worse’ or back then ‘better’. Dylan did sing “and the times, they are a-changin” but in the end, he kind of let us decide if this.
Top piece video – Dylan’s rocking verson of Maggie’s Farm that shook folk music to its foundation in 1965! The band that went on stage to back Dylan included two musicians who had played on his recently released single “Like a Rolling Stone” : Mike Bloomfield on guitar and Al Kooper on organ. Two of Bloomfield’s bandmates from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band also appeared at Newport: bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay, along with Barry Goldberg on piano. Dylan made a rather spur of the minute decision to perform electric after festival organizer Alan Lomax had said some uncomplimentary things when announcing the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at an earlier workshop. Rebel Dylan was right again in my humble opinion!