Popping Balloons on Sunday Mornings

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Of flying things, birds, planes and helicopters, Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field still belongs. But the first, Airport of the East, launch site of The Berlin Airlift, made famous with flying legends, Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindberg, John Glenn, “Wrong Way” Corrigan, gives way to overgrown, empty runways, and now makes home to Model plane and car enthusiasts and evening astronomy club fascinations. Yet near Jamaica Bay, where Police chopper pilots train and thunder overhead, hidden to others, soar different flights of fancy, arrows.

Firing is about to start.
Stand Back, archers at work.

On any day, see complex compound bows, Rambo style, power and technology, precision and speed, efficiency for the hunt. Watch colorful target bows, more like traditional with continuous draw weight, still with sights for the one-eyed shooter. But the only outdoor range in the city makes it possible for traditional recurve and long bowmen to feed their delight.

It is Sunday, sunrise. Soon, wax and string, leather grips and woods of red cedar, yellow osage, hickory, ebony, maple, yew, and other bows with their natural grain and beauty decorate the racks. Beaver tail, snake, seal, black and brown leather everywhere, sometimes embossed for quivers and armguards, or protection to keep the skin on fingers. Arrows stand out simple or fancy painted, and with a lesson from the sea gulls and geese, need three white or colored feathers.

keep off the grass
And keep off the grass, I mean wood chips.

Truly an oddity of mind, a 7′ bow weighing only a few pounds can concentrate intense force. The draw ancient, the process simple but irresistible, a stick bent with a string propels another stick to create a sport, hunting machine and primitive weapon of mass destruction.

Sharpen your instincts as if in Sherwood Forest. Traditional shooting calls on the natural ability of your body, eyes-tell-brain-tells-body what to do through repeated practice, more like pitching a ball than shooting a rifle. A Red-tailed hawk perched high to the right of the range concentrates on a rabbit crossing the field. So too, archers take aim at targets of foam, paper, canvas, rubber animals, or a moving object in the breeze. Though a distance from fishing area and roads, a barrier 100 yards off helps protect against over-shoots and ricochets.

Balloons, something inside you feels amazingly good when you burst one, does not matter what color, twenty feet, forty feet, eighty feet the further the better, if you can hit it. During the week, with cool, sunny weather, a sandwich and drink, when the range lay empty, tranquil, and quiet, archery resembles meditation. However, the hodgepodge line up on Sunday, the usual crew jesting as Medieval bowmen might, leaning and shooting from every angle wont of their style, remains anything but peaceful.

As one partner endearingly complains, “They’re a bunch of rascals and scallywags!” much to everyone’s amusement. For upon returning from the targets, the “ALL CLEAR” called, before he could notch his bow, swish, swish, swish, pop, a dozen arrows occupied the spot where his balloon used to be. Keeping with tradition, as “Wrong Way” Corrigan, forbidden to fly East, took off West on a foggy day, then accidentally turned up in Ireland, excuses soar. “Sorry, was that your target?” “The sun was in my eyes.” “A dog bit me.”

Somehow finding this corner of a forgotten airstrip, a food vendor makes rounds, while companions barter equipment and accessories and share stories, adventures, technique and knowledge, some satisfied just to watch others practice. Friendship abounds over the flights of arrows. Anxieties release as arms and chest and string, transfer tension and stress into a shaft that vanishes with a wisp.

David Pambianchi is a New York writer, who loves to tell stories about the city, the people, the entertainment, the sport and the businesses that catch his attention.