Today’s blog post comes from Jana Waller, host of Skull Bound TV. You can tune in for hunts with Jana Wednesdays at 8:30 PM ET and 11:30PM ET and Thursdays at 12:30 PM ET. Follow Jana on Twitter or Facebook.
The father-daughter bond is undeniable, especially throughout one’s childhood. It’s one of the most important ingredients in the development of a young woman’s confidence. When the teenage years roll around the connections young girls have with their dads is often trumped by friends, sports, school and a need for independence. As young women cultivate their own personal lives, starting careers and building families, the relationships older women have their fathers is often pushed to the back burner. While many fathers and daughters have a close personal relationship, other do not. I feel blessed to consider my dad Paul as one of my best friends and I honestly feel it’s because of our passion for hunting and art. We not only love one another because we’re family, but we share in many similar hobbies which makes us more than family. We’re friends.
As much as I love the mountains of Montana, I miss not seeing my family on a regular basis. Our filming, editing and expo schedule with Skull Bound TV is hectic and it can be challenging finding time in the winter months to get down to visit my Dad and Stepmom who winter on the gulf coast of Florida. As I was attempting to plan our annual visit, my dad sent me a newspaper clipping about a local Sarasota sculptor named Greg Marra. Marra had recently created a larger than life statue of the late Navy Seal Chris Kyle, author of the New York Times best selling book ‘American Sniper’. Cameraman Jimmy and I were fortunate enough to meet Chris just two weeks before his unfortunate death on February 2, 2013 where he and another Navy SEAL were killed at the range by a veteran suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Our country lost a part of history and a true American hero but Greg Marra took it upon himself to honor Chris’s sacrifices with a bronze statue. I knew my trip had to include a visit to Greg’s studio if only to say “thank you”.
We found a break in our calendar and booked our flights. Not only was an escape from the snowy Montana landscape a blessing, but I was looking so forward to the laughs and good times that are inevitable when I’m around my Dad.
The first day was spent in typical Venice, Florida fashion…. searching for shark’s teeth! Venice, the ‘shark tooth capital of the world’, is an area known for it’s ancient sand treasures. You simply walk the beaches or comb construction sites and it’s not unheard of to come away with a handful of petrified shark’s teeth. This visit we decided to have a little friendly competition and award $5 bucks for the biggest, smallest and overall number of teeth. “Let the games begin!” I said to my Dad as we hit the beach with our eyes glued to the ground.
Cameraman Jimmy followed us with his cameras rolling as we strolled down the shoreline, looking for small, black triangle shaped teeth. “Got one!” I’d shout out loud enough for my Dad to hear. “Got another one!” I yelled. “Oh hush up!” he chimed back over the sounds of the rolling waves. After an hour of sun and sand we met back up to compare our loot. With hands extended we both measured up the opponents treasure and it was clear that I had won the quantity category. My dad proceeded to tell me he won $5 bucks for the largest tooth while I, saving the best for last, reached behind my back and pulled out a giant carcharodon megalodon tooth the size of my hand! “Ta Da!!!” I said, my face showing the telltale sign of a prank. “Get outta here! Where did you get THAT?” my dad laughed. I purchased the prehistoric monster shark tooth at a convention years back and had been waiting for the perfect time to show him. We had a great laugh and catching it all on camera made it priceless! It turned out that he found the biggest shark’s tooth of the day and I found the smallest and the most. Chalk it up to younger eyes I guess.
I made arrangements during our week’s stay in Florida to meet up with Greg Marra at his art studio in Sarasota. We had a lengthly phone call about not only his patriotic sculptures and artwork but also his love of hunting, guns and our veteran heroes.
We walked through Greg’s studio door and were instantly impressed with his obvious passion for American history. We made our introductions and I explained to him our connection to Chris Kyle. “I honor warriors.” Greg explained. “Chris was a warrior and although his life was taken away too quickly, I feel his story and his message is strong and needs to be captured in a statue that will stand the test of time.” He continued to explain that the Kyle statue was currently in Texas getting dipped in bronze and would be presented to the Kyle family as a gift. “I’m hoping his statue ends up in a place where people can honor him, remember our troops sacrifices for our freedom and pass down his story to the younger generations.” Marra explained. Through his work and website www.sculptingourheroes.com he aims to do just that.
Greg continued to give us a tour and show us the numerous projects he was currently working on. A row of Native American busts lined the side of the room with a large sketch of George Washington and his crew crossing the Delaware River taped to the wall above them. “I’m hoping to one day do a life size bronze sculptor of President Washington and his army. All in due time.” Greg said with a smile. Talented beyond compare, Greg also showed us a couple of guns from his vintage firearm collection. Greg’s passion for our country’s history as well as his true respect for our current military and veterans runs deep and it was worth our trip to Florida alone to be able to say ‘thank you’ and tour his studio.
I didn’t grow up in a military family. None of my relatives were in the service. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s and started reading some of my Dad’s favorite books about World War II that I started to develop a true appreciation for our country’s servicemen and women. From “In Harms Ways” to “My Hitch In Hell”, my Dad would send me books in the mail with a yellow sticky note on them that read “Have you read this one yet? It’s a must.” Or “Couldn’t put this one down.” It’s my Dad’s influence again that has created my deep respect for our country and military and has given us another similar interest and connection.
When tourists visit Florida they often head right for the beach and never make their way into the Everglades, a unique and exotic ecosystem exclusive to Florida. It’s always exciting to immerse myself in a new environment crawling with different species of birds, reptiles and mammals. My friend Shawn Meiman is a 4th generation Floridian and more comfortable walking barefoot through the murky swamps of the Everglades than he is on concrete. He’s also an airboat captain with a boat that has no boundaries for exploration. A quick phone call to Shawn and we were heading towards Fort Lauderdale and hitting the backwaters to explore, film and bowfish for dinner.
Just minutes after we pushed off from the dock the entire landscape changed from highways and telephone poles to nothing but endless tall grass and shallow waterways. Bright pink spoonbills flew overheads as made our way into the deep, dark untouched swampland. Dozens of exotic bird species flew off the trees as the sound of the airboat disturbed their peaceful roost. Cutting the engine, we drifted into the moss-covered cypress forest with a sense of pure serenity. “There’s nothing like the ecosystem of the Everglades.” Shawn whispered as the sounds of dozens of frogs and birds echoed off the trees. From the boat I counted seven alligators, their snouts slowly drifting through the murky water. “Right here is home to dozens of exotic reptiles, snakes, alligators, black bears, panthers, manatees and more. Not to mention over 350 different bird species. It’s a shame some Floridians have never even seen the Glades.”
We spent a few hours immersing ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the wetlands before the sun started to set. We broke out the AMS bows in hopes of shooting some dinner. “Many people don’t understand the negative impact invasive fish species like tilapia can have on the Everglades. They’re harmful to native plant species as well as impede the spawning of native fish. The only good thing about them is they’re great to eat!” Shawn exclaimed.
We spent the night flinging arrows into the water and collecting a nice amount of tilapia as well as a few gar. Bowfishing is such a fun way to not only rid the waters of a few unwanted squaters but it’s always rewarding catching your own dinner. Shawn’s intense love for protecting the Everglades is inspiring and I’m already planning our next airboat adventure with Fort Lauderdale Airboat Adventures and it’s fearless Captain Shawn.
Our final night in Florida was spent on the patio grilling up the filets and rehashing our week in the Sunshine State. In typical Paul Joseph fashion, my Dad proceeded to break into his Julia Child impersonation while cooking up the fish. There’s never a dull moment at the Joseph residence. The bond I share with my Dad is one I cherish. Through hunting, fishing, and art we’re able to be more than just father and daughter… we’re the best of friends.