I had planned on shedding my modern clothing, tonsuring my head, casting off my shoes, donning the trappings of a mendicant friar, taking a ‘commitment to quiet’ and going on a pilgrimage. I wanted to live with only what I could carry on my back. I planned on observing the various prayer rituals of a mendicant friar while offering my body as labor, as best I could, to various camps in return for a small patch of land to rest my head, and an occasional bite of food. I didn’t plan on carrying any objects from the modern world and would attempt to use only period items and avoid modern trappings as much as possible. I intended to carry a bed roll and a pilgrim's bag. I did not have a tent and did not intend to sleep in a one unless the climate demanded or a gracious host offered one as a resting place. I hoped to gain some insight into what it might have been like to shed all of ones holdings and take up on a pilgrimage trusting on the goodness of others. I traveled with no plan, no structure, no home, no verbal communication and a heavy reliance on faith in the goodness of others to carry me through my journey.
Note: I kept a rather extensive journal of my trip. This is not the text from my journal. I do not intend to publish the contents of that journal. My journal will remain my private memoir. I did use my writings along with my memory of events to fabricate this recount as best I could. While reading through my journal I came to realize that at times I must have been rather sleep deprived. The text often failed to make a lot of sense. In some cases I would recount events from two or three days prior. I have done my best to capture the events and correct the timeline where the writings in my journal went wonky. I can easily see that by the end of day two my brain was not functioning entirely at 100%. I have tried to write and edit this in a manner so as to make it as sensible and detailed as possible. It is, as far as I can formulate, an accurate recount of events during my time at Pennsic.
Let's begin with the ending...
The Final Thoughts
- I have been asked the question “So, will you do it all again?” I can most assuredly say no. There was value to me doing it once. It is called a “once in a lifetime experience” for a reason. My response has been and will continue to be: “Doing it once had value as an experiment. By doing it again it becomes a study. I never intended to do a study.”
- It appeared to me that within the purview of the SCA it is more acceptable to maintain a public persona of a pagan than a devoted Christian member of the clergy. There are likely many preconceived notions that go along with the Catholic Church which caused people to prejudge me simply by the manner in which I was dressed without ever considering the fact that I was playing a role. I was the wrong team’s mascot. Football fans might understand it as this: I felt like the only guy at Soldier field for a Chicago Bears game who happened to be wearing a block of cheese on my head and sporting the Packer’s green and gold.
- There are a lot of good people in the SCA. Every time I found myself discouraged by something or someone I later found myself lifted by the words or actions of somebody else. I heard snarky comments. I received strange looks. I saw evil eyes and heard some outright rude comments. This was eventually balanced with a lot of positive comments and pleasant interactions. By the end of the week I had received at least twenty compliments or nice comments for every strange look or rude comment I heard. Hearing "I admire the hell out of you for what you are doing" went a long way to erasing a bunch of those bad experiences.
- Being quiet is hard. I never intended to “take a vow of silence” which is not entirely period. I like to refer to it as a commitment to quiet. I’m an introvert and so the notion of a week without talking seemed agreeable. It was not. As best as I can recall I did slip and say 8 words during the week excluding the utterances during the kidney stone experience. I said “Sorry Milord”, “Oh really”, “Wow”, “Thank you” and “Wow”. In my sleeplessness I may have slipped and uttered something else, but to my knowledge those are the only eight words I spoke.
- Modern living affords us with too many mirrors for self-judgment. I didn’t see my own reflection until Wednesday. I happened to catch a look at myself reflected in a car window when I was loading up the gear in a car. At first I was shocked. It was a full week before I saw my own reflection in a real mirror and I almost didn’t recognize myself. I came to realize how different life would be without mirrors. It is much easier to be critical of yourself I you look at yourself in the mirror every day. If you don’t see yourself you might not be as hard on yourself. I imagine life would be better without mirrors.
- There are a lot of knights who actually act very knightly. I was surprised and well pleased by the number of courteous and thankful soldiers I ran into while water bearing. I worked at a number of the battles and was very delighted to behold how many people actually took time to be courteous and thank the support staff even though they were exhausted themselves.
- I love music. I listen to modern music between four and eight hours a day. I hadn’t realized how much I would miss it and how big a part it is in my modern life. While I enjoyed the period performances and drums on occasion when I first put in my ear phones and fired off a favorite playlist I felt like a man receiving an ice cold drink after having just crossed a desert.
- I loved going to court and witnessing peers being made. That seemed to resonate and add to the dream I had been living that week. By the time court rolled around on Thursday I was tired and a bit emotional. Seeing all the heraldic displays and ceremonies actually brought the dream alive in me again.
- Nothing in mundane life compares to watching hundreds and hundreds of armored soldiers clash on the battlefield. That is simply something that my non-SCA friends will never ever understand.
- When I finished preparing for Pennsic I was about burnt out. I wasn't sure how long it would be before my next set of projects would fill up the queue after I returned. While packing to leave camp I found myself digging through the fire wood pile. Since we were breaking camp early there was a fair amount of firewood which was intended to be burned Friday night. I ended up setting some aside to bring home. I then set a few more aside and then a few more. I then started a mental list of projects to make with "Pennsic Firewood". Apparently my burn out didn’t last that long after all.
- Before I began my trip somebody said something along the lines of "Well I hope you have fun with that." My response was sort of serious and sort of joking. I said "Well, really, if I have fun then I probably didn't do it right." I guess I can say that I probably did it right. I enjoyed the experience and will cherish the memories of all the things that happened. While I may enjoy the memory of it, I won’t go so far as to call the adventure fun.
- There are ants and other bugs everywhere at Pennsic. There is no way and no point trying to keep them from crawling on you while you are awake. There is definitely no point in trying to worry about it while you sleep on the bare ground. Eventually I got used to having bugs crawl on me while awake and asleep. It eventually became just plain normal.
- I had planned to shave my beard and my tonsure off when I returned home. Knowing this, I tried to be careful to cover my head during the midday sun with either my hood or a coif so that I wouldn’t end up with sunburn. When I returned my daughter suggested that after I shaved the rest of my hair off at the end of the event I would have a Japanese flag on my head. If you are not familiar with a Japanese flag, look it up. I laughed. Luckily the hood worked to prevent any significant Japanese flag sunburn.
- If you want to get noticed, wear period looking glasses. I only saw one other period looking set of glasses during the week. With all the other aspects and details I spent time on with regards to my kit; it was the glasses that seemed to have received more notice than anything else. I had well over 100 people comment on my wooden framed spectacles while I roamed around.
- You might ask “What's next?” I'm honestly not sure. With the relatively recent loss of my entire research database with all my docs from three years I'm a little hesitant to start planting roots into another long term project. I think I'll start a new list of projects and just take them one at a time and try and avoid another 6 month~1 year project plan. I honestly have no idea what my next “long term” thing will be.
- It is a tough list to make but when pressed to indicate my five most favorite memories of Pennsic 42 I would say the following, in no particular order.
- My interaction with “The Quill Guy”.
- Dinner and dishes at West Kingdom.
- Artisans in action on merchant’s row and Artisan's row.
- Water-bearing for the woods battles.
- Sitting at “My Hill” at the bottom of Runestone hill every day.
Brother Matthew's Pennsic - The Wandering Friar Experiment
Day 0 - The road to Pennsic
The journey to Pennsic was shared with some friends of mine. We took turns driving a truck hauling a massive trailer and while we drove we talked on and off. Along the way there was always a constant shadow in my mind reminding me of what I was about to do. To say that I was nervous would be a severe understatement. Going into this experiment I never desired to be identified as a sponge simply trying to go to Pennsic for free. That was never my intent. I began telling myself that I would not rely on my friends and I would not burden them with the cost of my maintenance either financial or emotional. I am a terrible introvert and worried constantly over my ability to communicate without speech. The drive took a bit longer than had been planned. We left late Thursday night with the expectation of pulling in sometime between one and two O’clock. I believe we arrived closer to 5 or 5:30. I slept a couple hours in the truck while we rotated drivers. Once on site the others took a nap before beginning to set up camp. I was unable to sleep and simply donned by robe and began to walk down the road.
Day 1 - Friday - July 26th
Day one in camp began with a walk. I figured I would stroll around while the rest of the camp took naps. I would be back in time to help them begin set up their camp when they awoke. I began the day optimistically. I was wearing period garb and had already donned my robe of silence. I returned from my walk and when people began to stir I began helping them set up camp. Once the camp was sufficiently in place I took off on my journey. I had a smile on my face and an eagerness to get things going. I walked for about three hours. I had three deliveries that needed to be made within the first few days of camp so rather than carrying those packages around I decided to get it over with quickly. I had a vague notion of where the packages needed to go, but no detailed information on specific tent locations. I walked around quite a bit for the first delivery. Eventually when I looked confused enough and wandered through enough camps people started to ask me "Can I help you?" I took a piece of charcoal out (which I nabbed from a fire ring with old coals) and wrote a message indicating who I was looking for. After four attempts I found the camp and made my delivery.
The next two deliveries went about the same and after all three transports had been completed I continued to walk around a while longer. I am not an athletic man and I am not in very good shape. I was tired and hot and ready for a rest as I wandered around to get an idea of the layout of the land. I happened across the Pennsic University area and found a dance class which was underway. More importantly the dance class was under way under a large shady tent with open seating. Still worried, a bit scared but mostly tired I sat to rest my already sore feet. I was really trying to pay attending and listen to the music but I fell asleep for about 30 minutes.
I Woke up thinking "Not sure this was a good idea...not sure what I'll learn." I felt funny walking around assessing people and I was really making an effort not to. I couldn't help but notice that over 90% of the garb I had already seen was not period at all and some was just plain strange looking even for modern clothing. I began to really wonder "How many of these people will buy into my little skit?"
I walked a bit more while trying to gauge where things were and determine how far I could actually travel. I had some grand notion of traveling down every single road at Pennsic at least once. I also planned to lap Pennsic at least once a day. While I went down about 85% of all the roads and did lap Pennsic at least once each of the first three days, I later came to realize that concept was sort of ridiculous.
I sat resting in the shade and began to transcribe my thoughts in a small journal as a young boy about the age of 12 spotted me. He said "I can see by your hair cut you are a monk." I smiled and nodded. (Friar vs. monk: Seem to be the same thing to most folks.) He then stood at attention and bowed like I was a General in the military or wearing formal Japanese garb. He said "Nice to meet you" and bowed stiffly again. He made me smile and gave me some hope. Apparently not everyone has preconceived notions about the evils done in the name of the church. Eight hours into my first day and at this point more than 1/2 of the folks who engaged me were teenage or younger. That was a surprise to me. It was nice to see people who still had the "dream" in their eyes.
My feet hurt. I packed up after about 45 minutes of writing and then walked till I couldn't. I sat to watch folks in the performance arts tent. That quickly became one of my favorite resting places. Finding a welcoming shady place to rest with a bit of entertainment thrown in was very pleasant. I was very sore and thirsty already. Although hunger not yet kicked in I did begin to worry about a place to sleep on my first night. When I got home I weighed my "gear" and found it to be about 27 pounds when the canteen was full. I am glad I didn't know that at the time, but the weight was already more physical activity than my overweight middle-aged body was used to. I had penned a copy of the Pennsic map to carry around and for a few days I tried to estimate the distance I walked daily. I have no doubt I walked over 6 miles each of the first three days.
While packing up to begin another stroll somebody happened across me who was aware of my "experiment". I am terrible with names, but I truly wish I could remember the woman who first offered aid to me. She was hoping to allow me to sleep in her camp, but after a brief departure and discussion with her camp-mates she realized that they were not comfortable having a stranger in camp. Alas, it begins.... She did come back with a saddened look and an apology. She still wished to help me and offered me some money to buy food with if only I would do her a service. I quickly nodded. She simply asked that I pose for “an image” to be taken. She took my image and in return she gave me some money. I was so warmed by her generosity I really wish I could have spoken. I began to have hope. I walked to the general store and purchased two small "day-old" sour dough rolls, a brick of cheese, a travel scoop of peanut butter and a banana. I ate one roll, 1/2 the cheese and the banana. I knew that Franciscans were not believed to have taken money and they were not to carry food from one day to the next. I sat there and ate as that fact weighed heavily on my mind. I ended up donating the rest of the unspent cash to the "tip-jar" but still kept some of the food for the next day... just in case.
After eating I strolled by some friends at House Fox Rose way up the hill in section B02 area. I had agreed with my family to maintain daily contact with a couple different people as emergency contacts. A couple of those contacts were camped with House Fox Rose and the others were camped with the Thieves of Hearts. This was my first daily check in, hello and goodbye.
I had no place to stay. Well, Brother Francis would have had less gear. A pilgrimaging Franciscan would simply walk from town to town. I knew that they would have traveled in small groups of two or three. They would not have travelled often by themselves. At times they must have spent many a night on the side of a road or in the shelter of the woods. All this I pondered as I lumbered up the tallest hill at Pennsic. I sat atop the large grassy hill overlooking the main battle field. The grass had a large XLII cut into it, denoting this year as Pennsic 42. I sat at the top of that hill for a while completely exhausted. I spotted a groundhog about 25 feet from me. He watched me as curiously as I watched him. At that point I really wished I could say hello to him as Brother Francis was believed to have done. I waved silently. As the sun faded so did my energy and I dozed off in the grass. I woke up in a short while after the sun had completely waned. The grass was moistening with dew and I was getting quite chilly with the breeze on the hill. Surely this would not do. With no flashlight and very limited visibility I trudged my way into the dark woods. I felt around with the walking stick I had found earlier. The woods were very dark so I travelled very slowly along the dirt path that previous four wheel drive vehicles had created. I felt around for a "flattish" spot about 15 feet off the road and there I plopped. I put on my linen shirt under my robe and unrolled the wool blanket I carried. My robe was only long enough to touch the top of my feet when unbelted. The blanket was only long enough to cover my feet when my head was exposed. I therefore found that the warmest sleeping position was in the fetal position with my head tucked under the blanket. It was not large enough to both cover me and the ground so I always slept on uncovered ground. As expected the cool earth drew the heat from my body quickly so I found that while in a fetal position I had to rock from left to right about 10~15 times a night to keep warm. I know that I normally dream at when at home. Most often when I wake I am very aware of the dreams, and more often nightmares, I have been experiencing. I had a few odd dreams on the first night, but after that I don't recall ever sleeping long enough at Pennsic to actually recall my dreams when I woke. I often woke up with chills shivering praying for the warming light of the sun. It was great Pennsic weather for fighters and those smarter people who brought tents. It was chilly, however, for goofballs like me sleeping outside with little gear.
Day 2 - Saturday - July 27th
I woke about 30 minutes before full dawn. During the day I only ever wear the scratchy wool hood and robe and so I started my packing by first removing my linen shirt. I rolled the shirt up in the blanket and didn't bother to even worry about the dirt and leaves rolled in with it. It would be on the ground soon enough and I wanted to get out and greet the sun when it rose fully. I was only a little hungry when I woke and I pondered the idea of carrying the food I had stashed. As a Franciscan I'm not supposed to store food so I decided to eat my bread, cheese and peanut butter. I had planned on eating the left over cheese, but as it turns out it was a bit slimy and covered with ants. I brushed off the ants and bit off a small bit. The sourness and texture of the cheese lead me believe that it was probably best to leave the rest to the ants.
As I headed down the hill to the opening by the main battle field a woman yelled and asked if I would be interested in having some breakfast. I waved no thank you as I had just spotted a rapier fighter that I recognized as Warder Anton. I wanted to communicate with him before he got too far away. I was hoping to make it to the battles this day and work as water bearer. Later I realized that had I not stored up food overnight I still would have had a warm breakfast waiting. I should have trusted in my faith and stuck with the plan. Instead I had old bread and rotten cheese for my penance.
I wrote a quick note to the rapier fighter indicating simply "water bearer?" He understood and directed me to the location I should wait at and the time I should be there. I had the beginnings of a plan for the day. I still had some free time before the battle so voyaged off again. I made my way the north eastern side of the war while I waited for the fencers to wake up and get ready for their battle.
I returned to the fort where the battle would be, took out my quill and ink and wrote a little name tag saying simply "WATER BOY" and pinned it on my hood with a homemade pin. I was happy to see that two people noticed the pin and even pointed out that it looked handmade. Smile.
The rapier fort battle was performed twice allowing each side to have a turn on both the inside and the outside of the fort. Another version of the same battle was performed as "scarves against the world". By the time the second battle had begun I had already stopped my labors as water bearer and this is why. In my efforts as water boy, I saw a man moving hay bales for what I expected would be a forthcoming heavy battle. He labored with loose fitting brown pants and no shirt. He lugged bale after bale after bale, alone. I felt compelled to take a break from offering water to the fencers and do some REAL work. I dropped my hood, my bag and my bed roll and stashed them under a wooden cart. A drizzle of rain seemed imminent and I wanted my bedding as dry as it could be kept. I followed the man and started hauling hay with him. For what felt about 45 minutes we moved bales. We moved them throughout the respite allowed between fort battles and the duration of the second battle and most of the break after that as well. Later after the second battle a friend of mine was one of two fencers that offered assistance. I tried not to be judgmental but could not help being a little troubled that as we labored more than a few folks could only complain that we were "removing their seats". Many stood around and even blocked the path where we were clearly headed. I understand they just fought and were tired, but most never offered aid or even moved out of the way of those who did labor on. I prayed to myself quietly that I would never again become "that" guy. I hoped that when there was work to do I would always have a hand in the doing of it. The man I followed later asked my name, but I motioned I was mute. He smiled and nodded and said "Well, thank you milord". He had kindness in his eyes and that made it all worth it. They may say that one rotten apple can spoil the barrel. I hope the converse is true more so. He was a shining example of good work ethic and kindness. I hope that spreads and becomes more pervasive in our hobby.
During my efforts I accidentally spoke for the first time. I was making my way through the gaggle of fighters. There were a few small children playing on the hill of hay bales. I had motioned to a man where I was going and I thought he understood. I had a bale on my shoulder and planned on dropping it. Turns out he didn't understand and failed to move. I dropped a bale on him and slipped and said "Sorry milord". I hadn't even noticed it when I did it but a friend of mine heard me. He came up to me and said that he explained to the man my story and that those would likely be the only words the good friar would speak. He could see my dismay and also said "I think God would approve." While I hoped he was right I was still more than a bit upset.
I was a bit invigorated after the manual labor and ready for another stroll. I headed down the road to the A&S area. Artisan's row and the performance tent were firmly rooted as one of my favorite places in all of Pennsic. That area is where I seemed to find the highest concentration of folks trying to raise the bar and better the game. I passed through that area 2~3 times each day. While in the area I popped my head into each of the tents along Artisan's row. I met a guy that I referred to as “The Quill Guy” in my journal. I took one of his business cards but it never dawned on me to remember his name until after I got home. He's an incredible artist and I highly recommend checking out his work. His name is Randy Asplund and website is www.randyasplund.com. I had come across his website a number of times before and knew that he made books and did all things scribal. I was finally able to see some close up books and tools. Holding beautiful items such as those was far more enjoyable than simply looking at images online. He also had a waxed tablet. His was far more useful than mine and we began to use it to communicate. He had some bronze castings that would become hardware for a future bookbinding project. It was very inspiring to see all aspects of the process. I noticed that he had a quill knife so I pulled out my knife and some quills. Prior to leaving for my trip I had tried to make a number of quills and messed them all up. This was my chance to learn from the master. I motioned that he cut one of my quills. Someone else at the table saw and understood what I was suggesting. He tried to use my knife but it was not sharp enough at the tip. His knife was also a bit too dull so he cut it with an Ex-acto knife. It came out very nice. The shape was a lot different than the ones I had tried. I asked him to demo it and he did so. He wrote "This is a test" on a real piece of vellum scrap. That was so cool. Without words I couldn't express how much that meant to me. As a struggling scribe this example was very valuable to me. This moment had quickly become the highlight of my war. Even after I reflect on all that occurred at the war, this is still one of my favorite memories of the week. I stuck around that area later for a little while longer and watched some singing and playing of music. While walking around I scoped out areas which might make a good sleeping spots. It rained quite a bit later so it was a good thing I did my reconnaissance.
After a short rest in the shade I made my way up and then back down the long road to the archery range. I was hoping to bump into some friends at the range, but alas, none were to be found. Along the way I stopped at a friend's camp and dropped off my bed roll. The thin rope which held it in place also served as a painful reminder of its weight on my shoulder. I had planned on picking up my sleeping gear later on the way back from the range. At the range I looked for a table to write on and again... none were to be found. I found a decent shade tree in the center of the range area which offered an acceptable place to rest my pained feet. While journaling in the shade for a while I witnessed many things. Some of the things I witnessed I enjoyed while others I would prefer to un-see. A gentleman covered in tattoos and wearing a loincloth and wings on his head greeted me. For the most part it was very peaceful to simply watch the world. While I rested I saw an archery target break. A weld had snapped. I had an idea how to fix it but being mute I didn’t expected that I would be able to get my idea across. While I pondered this notion I witnessed somebody come up with a solution. I heard somebody say "That's why I love the SCA. You have a problem and tell everyone it can't be done and the next thing you know it is fixed!" The SCA does really draw an amazing crowd of gifted people.
I really very much wanted to avoid relying only on my friends to feed me. Before I left for Pennsic I had folks offer "stop by and I'll feed you". I tried not to think about that though. I really wanted to experience the uncertainty and sometimes the hunger of not having a planned meal. While I sat in the shade I loaded up on water, but did start to feel the rumblings of hunger. I had been doing more physical activity than my body was used to, resting less than my "desk-job" body was used to all while eating a smaller amount than I would have preferred. By late afternoon on this day real uncertainty started to invade my thoughts again. I had become tired and sore. I believe I must have walked over a few miles before the rapier battle and walked another couple to get to Pennsic University and then to the archery range and back again. Normally I prefer being barefoot, but after the return from the range I really began to miss my modern shoes.
Up until this point I hadn't viewed any merchant’s wares. I had been debating the issue in my head whether or not I even wanted to look into the shops. I had been to only one prior Pennsic and that time I wanted everything that I saw. I went home wishing I could have purchased more junk. This time around I could buy anything. I thought that even to look might lead me to covet that which I couldn't have. Now that may sound dorky and pious, which I'm not. Well, I'm not pious at least. I was trying to play the game the best I could even if that meant acknowledging a sin that had never before concerned me.
While walking around the lot just north of Runestone hill (another of my favorite spots) a woman just yelled out "Father" on my way by. She asked that I bless her tooth. Seems she had a toothache. I pointed at the sign showing "I am mute" and she said "Oh, I see. Go in peace." I am not a friar, in fact I am not even Catholic, I just like to play one on the weekends. While I am playing the role of friar I made sure to attempt to reduce the chance that I might offend anyone who might actually be of that faith. I refused to perform any blessings or anything else which might be construed as "overboard". I didn't want to offend and therefore I never even crossed myself before/after prayers. Not being Catholic that seemed like it might be construed as offensive to those who really are and take that action seriously. I really hope that I didn't offend anyone but I suppose I may never know. The rare encounters such as the toothache woman gladdened my heart. At least some were trying to play the game. I continued along to what became "my hill". It became my second favorite patch of land at Pennsic at the bottom of Runestone hill. At the bottom of my hill I always found a resting spot in the shade. I never once went by with the intent on resting and found my hill lacking a comfortable patch of grass. It was shady, cool and often had a nice cross breeze. It was also only a stone's throw away from a water spigot. The real reason it became "my hill" was what happened next.
While sitting there resting my feet and journaling, I pondered and wrote of my pains. I wrote of the need for strength to continue. I contemplated the possibility that this was all a mistake. I didn't have the strength to make it… and then it happened. I looked up to see a woman pushing a large child in a stroller. She was clearly struggling. I could see that even without my glasses on. I usually take my glasses off to write and so could not see well. I set my pen down, I capped my ink pot and I ran to help. I had not recognized them as the family members of a friend of mine who was camped up the hill where my journey had begun. The child in the stroller was handicapped and unable to walk easily on flat ground. The hill at Runestone Park was simply not possible for her to navigate. When I grabbed the stroller I heard one of the children say "Hey, isn't that Brother Matthew?" Then it dawned on me who I was pushing. I was so tired only moments before but suddenly I had energy and found purpose at the bottom of my hill. It was only moments after getting to the top and waving farewell did I see someone round the corner at the bottom of the hill with a very heavy wagon. This was now my hill and my task was to help anyone I saw needing aid up my hill. Stopping by the bottom of that hill became a daily ritual. Not always the same time, but at least one hour each day I spent time near that hill. It reminded me of the service I had pledged and that no matter how tired I was somebody else was more tired and more in need. I went back to my spot and my journal but had no more words to put on the paper. That is all I wrote of in my journal for the remainder of that day. After recovering at home after Pennsic I wondered to myself what out hobby would be like if everyone adopted a new outlook. When work needs doing, put your own hands to it, before you presume others will.
I walked around for a few more hours still unsure where the next meal would come from. I don't recall exactly where I was going. Most of the time I was wandering about with no particular destination designed. I happened to bump into two friends along the way. I had previously not intended to rely on friends for my sustenance but it was late, I was tired and I was very hungry. I yielded. They said "Brother Matthew, are you well? Would you allow us to buy your dinner?" I thought for a few moments and said yes. This was charity and I would take it. I am very glad I did. We made our way to the food court. They asked what I would like and I repeatedly tried to motion that they should choose what they desired. There wasn't anything that could be put in front of me that I would not have been thankful for. They discussed between themselves and decided on a meal of meatballs in a bread bowl. I recall the discussion having to do with carbs and protein. The smells of the area were simply intoxicating. I can't imagine what it is like to be homeless and hungry every day. A new level of empathy established itself within me and I truly hope it remains. My friends purchased the meal and as it was handed to me they said their good-byes. I motioned my thank you but I don't think they truly understood what that warm meal meant for my spirit. I sat on the ground at the corner of the food court and consumed every last warming bite. It was warm and delicious.
After some time at the bottom of my hill, I headed back to my favorite spot, Artisan's row. I figured I might see what was available, take in a show or two and maybe learn something in a class. Drizzle... Not too bad.... drizzle. I thought that a bit of rain might actually be good. As the day pressed on and darkness eventually loomed I realized I had no place to stay yet again and the rain continued on an off. The gloomy rain made it all the more unlikely that I would find dry ground to sleep on outside. I had off loaded my bed roll earlier that day on my way to the archery range. Now that the rain had begun in earnest I decided that traveling up the hill to get my blanket would be irrational. Yes, I might obtain my dry blanket but in return I would have a much dampened robe, not to mention a much dampened spirit. I did not know at the time but the friend with whom I left my bed roll worried on my safety even more with the coming rains. I made up my mind to stay where I was and take in a performance or two while I waited for the drizzle to pass. I sat listening to some very talented musicians, singers and players. While some of the shows seemed to be rather poorly attended most of the performers were top-notch. I stayed in that tent until the last show of the evening was over. The rain had stopped, but the ground would be wet until the morning sun dried it out. No more pondering. I decided to stay in Artisan's row. I wasn't quite sure if that would be frowned upon but I was pretty sure that it was not allowed. I simply went for another stroll around some of the southern campsites waiting for the crowds to disperse. When Pennsic University was sufficiently vacated I snuck back in and crawled into an open tent. The shelter I found had basically almost dry ground, but having no blanket and no linen shirt to aid in my warmth I knew I was in for a cold night. I toyed with the idea of asking for help but I had found out from somebody that "The Monk-Mime is really hard to understand." Others had told me that they didn't "speak Monk Charades" very well. I simply put my hood on backwards to keep my warm breath as close to me as possible and then curled up in a ball under a table. I used my bag for a pillow and I stayed under the table. I had found out that areas of the tent roof do in fact leak and that they tended to do so right as you fell asleep. I woke often and only really half slept. My stomach convulsed on and off as I shivered. I was miserable. It was my worst moment so far and would become my least favorite time at Pennsic. I was close to talking. I was close to running up the hill to a friend's warm tent. I was so very close to quitting it all. I was miserable. I was hopeful that somebody would come in and see me and offer better shelter. I didn’t want to leave and risk not being seen and shagged away. I was miserable. I stayed and it seemed like an eternity waiting for the long cold sleepless night to end. The next day’s warming sun seemed so far away. The following day I recounted the evening in my journal. As a simply summary statement I wrote: "Brain is foggy. I know I need more sleep."
Day 3 - Sunday - July 28th
I began to stir when people started moving the flaps to prepare for the day's classes. It was time to go. My head started getting a little wonky. I had a splitting headache probably from lack of sleep, exertion and my severe mundane addiction to caffeine. I had experienced a bit of caffeine withdrawal the first couple days, but this was the pinnacle. The headache began to suck the life from me. The first day I had arrived I walked around the site and kept an eye out for a willow tree. I had in the past used the bark from a willow tree to relieve a headache. I had chewed on a little of the bark each day, but on this day I would make a breakfast of it. I strolled over to the tree and filled my canteen on the way. Chewing on willow bark tastes like chewing on an unbuffered aspirin. It isn't pleasant. I took about a one foot section and peeled it. I would chew it until no more juice or flavor would come out. I would wash the juice down with water and then peel a bit more. Eventually it was like chewing gum. I didn't even pay attention to the flavor. Within about 30 minutes or so the headache eased and my aches were forgotten.
At 9:00am I finally found a table to write at. By the market there were five tables. I suppose they were earmarked for patrons of the small food shop but it appeared to be too early for customers yet. No crowd had developed and I was the only one sitting there for quite a time. I began journaling. After returning home and reading through my journal I know I was quickly becoming disheartened with my adventure. There were so many people and so many gym shoes and so many pajama looking modern clothes. There were so many parties and so many people living their own dream which seemed very distant from any sort of 'medieval reenactment' I had in mind. I realized that the ladies and gentlemen drawn to the SCA are a "special" breed. I find it odd that so many want to fanaticize about a time and place where religion was everywhere but they want to recreate a Godless version in that world. It was early and I was not even half way through my journey and my mood had substantially soured.
I went back to a bit of walking after my morning journaling. I strolled around for a couple hours but I did so at a much diminished pace. At about half past eleven I stopped by the information booth. There had been a message board outside that tent and I had instructed my family that if they need to contact me I would stop by the message board at least once a day. There were about five people on site which were listed as emergency contacts. Each of them knew to leave me a message on this board which I would pass by daily. While there I checked the day's schedule and found that there would be a rapier battle at one o’clock. I planned on going to tote water jugs for that battle unless something else came up. I then headed to tour the camps on the farthest Southern border of the war. There were a lot more hills in that region than I had previously realized. It was very shady, cool and a bit marshy in some places. The natural wildlife and cool air was much appreciated. I did find, however, that the percentage of folks wearing modern pajama type clothing back in those hills increased as I headed south.
On that particular stroll I began to again question my purpose here. I was questioning not only my 'experiment' at Pennsic, but also my expectations and existence in the SCA. Everyone here seemed to enjoy modern camping, lots of partying, a bit of debauchery and very odd looking clothing. There is no other way to put it but to say that religion seemed taboo here. Along that walk I heard rude comments and received many odd looks and even more avoided glances. I felt like I was representing the mascot for the team that most attendees I ran into refused to cheer for. I began to wonder if many feared to talk to me fearing that I would start proselytizing. Little did they know that I couldn't talk. Not only couldn't I talk, but I'm a terrible introvert and if I could talk, I wouldn't want to talk to them. On separate occasions I happened across two same sex couples walking along the road holding hands. I smiled and nodded as I tried to do to all strangers who met my glance. I got the worst evil eyes and sneers and wondered how well this experiment would eventually turn out.
It was time to head back north and tote water. After the battle ended I made my way back to Pennsic University and found a spot to rest. I found a place in the corner of a class where I could hang out. It was almost 4:00 and I had nothing on the agenda. I had already done a ton of walking and was too tired to keep strolling around any longer. I decided to take a class of authentic Viking clothing. At the time I wasn’t sure what my next BIG project would be, but I was considering developing an entirely new Viking persona. At the time I wished I could have purchased the handout but I had no money. I was observing and reading over somebody's shoulder and I could see that the handout was a good one.
After the class I was becoming so very tired and decided to head back to my friends in the Thieves of Hearts camp. At that camp I almost gave up. I hadn’t eaten yet that day and I was so tired. I was so sore. I was so hungry. I was so very discouraged. I was so very, very depressed. The looks that I had been receiving and the negative comments I had been hearing really lowered my spirits. This experiment was not going well and it was only day three. A close friend of mine tried to convince me to quit if it wasn't going well. She could tell I was unhappy and very tired. I could see tears in her eyes over concern for me and I about broke. She offered and eventually convinced me to set up an extra tent they had brought with them. That would at least allow me a good night’s rest and serve as a place I could always fall back on. I wondered if perhaps that lesson on friendship was what I was really meant to learn at Pennsic. I agreed to stay the night. I ate a dish of chicken and dumplings. It was a small bowl but it filled me up very quickly. I rested in their camp and went to a concert with group to see Duke Moonwulf the rock’n bard of Pennsic. I wanted to continue feeling as if I were maintaining my role as servant so I offered to pull their wagon. I was able to pull a wagon of chairs to the concert and back again. The knowledge that I would sleep well that night gave me energy. The warm food in my belly gave me a real boost as well.
My friends were all going on what they called a 'walk-a-bout'. I knew they would be out late. I washed up a bit before getting ready for bed. I was able to wash my hands and face and even freshen up my tonsure again. I brought a straight razor along for just that purpose and I'm glad I was able to make use of it three times that week. As for the act of washing, I have little to say. I washed my face at least once every three days. I never washed my feet. Everything else between face and feet was washed somewhere between that range. I was so glad to have a tent that I fell asleep instantly.
Day 4 - Monday - July 29th
I woke up feeling much better. After eating, washing, shaving and sleeping my outlook had changed quite a bit. I had received an offer to share breakfast at the Rivenstar camp. When I woke up I thought it might still be about 6:30 or so. It was becoming light but the camp was still very quiet. I was told that the breakfast would be served at 8:00 so I got up, packed my things and headed out. I figured it was still early enough for me to take a stroll down to the message board and check on the time. As I suspected it was still too early to head to Rivenstar so I found a spot to journal for a while. I am an introvert, as I have said, and so the notion of being invited to another camp where I didn’t know anyone to receive a free meal was rather difficult for me. I tried to get over the idea as I packed up my journal and headed north to their camp. As I approached I didn’t spot anybody that I recognized moving around in the camp so I passed the entrance of the back and forth a few times. I felt strange about simply strolling in to a camp where nobody was expecting me so I wanted to wait until I spotted Molly, the woman who extended the invitation to me. I took a seat on the ground at the corner across from their camp. I eventually spotted the woman who invited me. When she noticed me she beckoned me in. As it turns out she was one of the nicest people I met during all of Pennsic. I was very happy to spend time in that camp. The entire group was very warming and made me feel quite at home. As people rolled in for breakfast I happened to recognize one of the gentlemen in the camp as Duke Moonwulf, the bard we had listened to the night before. Initially I felt a bit strange as if I were sitting next to somebody who was famous. Good thing being tongue tied doesn’t impact you when you are a mute. When it was explained to him that I had taken a vow of silence he responded with “Oh… sounds like a challenge!” I was expecting to fend off questions which would be an attempt to get me to talk. He had been simply joking and we all proceeded to eat a delicious breakfast. We ate blueberry sausages and oatmeal. It was a very pleasant way to begin the day. Sitting there listening to the stories being told and the plans for the day’s adventures was very relaxing. This sort of experience was exactly what I was hoping for when I decided to begin this ‘experiment’.
When the meal was completed I started to offer my service. While I was doing dishes and helping put things away Molly extended an invitation to come for dinner as well. Initially I thought that I didn’t want to impose on the same group twice. The sound of a fried chicken dinner was too much to pass up. I let her know that I’d be back at five o’clock for dinner.
After breakfast was done, dishes were washed and put away it was time for the day’s adventures. I planned on helping Mistress Katherine von Schlosserwald, from my home shire, with a class she would be teaching at Pennsic University at noon. That gave me a few hours to roam around. I decided to head up to the northern most hill again. While I had lapped that area once before, I had never gone down ALL of the side roads. The parking lot on the northern most section of the site is very open and very hot but there are quite a few nice little roads going through a nice shady patch of woods. While I was enjoying my stroll I paused to take off my hood and replace it with a cooler linen coif. It was only after walking about a half mile around the roads did I realize that I had dropped my rolled up hood along the way. That ended any notion of a nice leisurely stroll. I feared that somebody would pick it up and I would finish the week without my hood. Thoughts of the cool evenings made that notion very unappealing. I grabbed a firm hold of my bag and bed roll and began a quick trot to find the lost hood. Panic was beginning to set and by the time I neared the spot where I had swapped the hood for the coif I was about out of breath and nervous that I had lost it for good. As I approached the spot I noticed an elderly gentleman poking at the hood with a walking stick. He looked like a cross between a person representing a Japanese persona and some sort of half-naked Native American medicine man. He lifted my hood with the tip of is stick. As he did so he spotted me jogging towards him and watching. He looked down again at it and then at me and said “Looks like somebody dropped something. Looks like a hood. Looks like it might be yours?” I nodded. He left the hood and continued on. As I arrived at the spot I picked it up and then plopped down on the grass to take in some water and calm my nerves.
After a bit of rest and after calming down a bit I decided to change my direction. I chose to head due east and then follow the road around back to Pennsic University and wait for the class instead of hitting all the northern roads. It is amazing how much walking one can do when that is all one has on the agenda. I arrived at the class location with plenty of time to spare so I headed back up the hill to where the instructor was camped. I saw her loading up her car. Her class was a Circa 1200 display and I arrived just in time to see the last few display pieces being packed. The class involves a lot of props and period looking items so her approach was to load it all into a car, drive down to the class, unload, park the car and wait for the end of the class. She had already finished the packing of the vehicle so I simply added my gear to the back of the car and let her know I’d meet her at the class location. I turned around and walked right back to where I came just come from. I was much more comfortable without a bed roll and satchel. Even though the gear was only about 27 pounds it did begin to ache carrying it everywhere. I felt quite a bit lighter and had a bit of bounce in my step as I proceeded back to Pennsic University.
After the class had ended and everything was loaded back into the vehicle I decided to kill some time by walking around the camps around the lake. I had some friends who were camped in that area. I hadn’t come across them yet and I didn’t know exactly where their tent was so I headed slowly around and figured I might be lucky enough to spot them. With great luck and to my great surprise I noticed them camped just south of Runestone hill. I approached and attempted to communicate in my own silent way. More troubles with “Monk-Mime”. I was offered the pavilion which they had been using as a populace sunshade to sleep in if I wanted. That sounded very good to me and my mind was put at ease. I had dinner plans and even a place to stay after dinner. This project was turning around better as each day progressed.
I was aware that weather forecasting was not really a medieval notion and should have been considered an inappropriate luxury. Every time I happened to pass by the message board, however, I did get a chance to see the weather. I should not have looked, but that was just one indulgence I could not find a way to avoid. Weather was supposed to be nice that night so sleeping in a sunshade was expected to be decent. My feet were still very sore. (As I read and reread my journal pages that is the single most frequent comment I seemed to make. Almost every entry references my feet.) With dinner plans and sleeping plans arranged I still walked around, but tended to move a little slower and enjoyed resting in the shade whenever I felt like it.
I made it back to Rivenstar for dinner in a very punctual manner. Showing up to a free meal would just be downright inappropriate. As it turns out, the rest of the camp was not quite so aware of the time. We had plenty of time to set the table and even take a little rest in the sleeping lounge. The camp had cots and chairs set up in a populace space right off the road that some called the sleeping lounge. We sat and watched what they called “Pennsic Television.” I was told “It is fun to watch on occasion, but we only get one channel.” We sat with chairs facing the road and watched as all sorts of SCAdians wandered past. It was a very comfortable and relaxing camp to spend time in. When dinner showed up it was well worth the wait. One of the camp residents had run out to do some shopping and picked up the already prepared meal. They had a ton of fried chicken and a variety of cold salads. People straggled in on their own time and took their fill. At the end of the meal a few deserts were brought in to celebrate the birthday of one of the camp residents. There were cakes and cupcakes in varying styles and flavors. Though I don’t tend to like a lot of sweets normally the smell of sugar was intoxicating. I was offered a few different types of deserts but I decided that to accept any of them should probably be considered a bit too indulgent. I passed on desert.
After the meal was finished desert was consumed and things began quieting down I helped with the dishes once again. Doing dishes was a small service to pay for such good company and good food. I was a bit sad to say my farewell as I hit the road again.
I don’t honestly remember where I went after dinner. I had been very diligent about journaling but it seemed that I had simply skipped a chunk of time and my brain is just too foggy to recall. I do remember making my way back down to my sleeping quarters with the Grey Gargoyles camp before it was dark. I love children dearly and always enjoy simply sitting and watching kids play. There were two small children in the camp where I would be staying. Sitting in the shade and watching the kids was very entertaining. The small boy in camp didn’t seem to understand that I COULD talk, but simply chose not to. I liked making silly faces at him and getting him to giggle with no verbal means at all. Spending time in that camp is the time that made me remember and miss my home and my family the most. I began missing my daughters in earnest every time I watched the young girl in camp playing.
As the darkness settled a couple from the camp headed out. They invited me to join them going to be a magic performance done by Kuji, one of Pennsic’s most talented performers. The camp I was staying at had received an invite to come and watch the show. I tagged along as well as the silent medieval mascot of the day. I had seen Kuji perform in the past and yet always found myself entertained by his shows. During the show I made the mistake of uttering a word. As far as I recall I only spoke 8 words during the week and he caused one of them. It was a single word uttered at a moment of shear amazement. I simply said ‘WOW’. I slapped myself in the face and regretted it immediately. His show was very impressive and deserving of the word.
When we got back to camp the children had settled in for bed. A woman in the camp had planned on leaving Pennsic the following day. She decided to make the most of it and planned on staying up as long as possible. I tried to stay awake as well, even though I couldn’t talk. In true introvert style I enjoyed being in the presence of others who chatted as long as I wasn’t expected to speak. Being mute helped in this regard. I did not make it very long into the night. I ended up curling up in a chair to keep warm and I fell asleep. The women who were staying up chatting woke me up and pointed me to the direction of bed roll.
Day 5 - Tuesday - July 30th
I think I slept a little longer this day than I had been sleeping recently. I figured it to be about 7:00 when I finally woke and started in my journal again. I had a decent night sleep. It got a bit chilly in the middle of the night but I was given a thick lamb skin rug to sleep on. I also grabbed a padded moving blanket which the children had been using as a mat to play on. It worked well to keep me warm when I rolled myself up in it like a taco.
I realized that the worst thing about the cold was the wet grass in the middle of the night. I attempted to hydrate as much as possible to avoid any sort of dehydration injury. Drinking water in excess meant that I had to get up once or twice during each night. Wet grass at 4:00 AM was like walking through cold razors on my already aching feet. The ground was cold and the long grass blades slapping the top of my feet felt sharp. Avoiding the tall grass meant walking on roads and feet were so cold that they felt every little rock as if it were a piece of broken glass. I hated having cold feet, but I still kept drinking over a gallon of water each day and making my nightly trips to the Porta Johns.
My mood had shifted and I was becoming uplifted by how the experiment was going. I was sure I could make the rest of the way. As the camp was beginning to stir and a gentleman of the camp woke to make coffee we had time to sit quietly. As I wrote in my journal he said something like the following to me: "In the words of many experienced SCAdians, you win my friend. You are doing it right." That comment gave me strength and made me smile inside. I reflected on the comment throughout the rest of the day and it continued to lift me. While walking around the previous day I happened to hear someone camped nearby say "Look a mendicant friar!" I've been called monk often, sometimes padre, sometimes called father. It was really nice to know that one person recognized me for what I was supposed to be. I continued to hope that in some small way my presence inspired people. I hoped that even people who were Catholic could simply see me as a mascot for the medieval experience and not a religious zealot. I wanted to add value as a pointer to the past. I never wanted to convert anyone, preach to anyone or even talk to anyone. I was hoping to be a moving reminder of the time period we all said we were trying to recreate.
Later that day both the heavy and the rapier woods battles were scheduled. I planned on going to dole out water for both battles. This was only my second time at Pennsic, but I recalled enjoying the woods battle and thought it would be fun to go and witness it again from a different vantage point. While I finished up my journaling in the morning I used my quill to write a note on a page of paper asking how I might become a water bearer for the woods battle. I pinned on my water-boy name tag again and made my way up towards the woods. As I made my way up the hill to towards the woods I showed three different people my hand written note. It took until the third attempt before I got decent directions on where to go. While making my way to the back of the line where the EMS folks were stationed I happened to come across a few heavy fighters I knew. The three fighters also planned on fighting in the rapier battle so they brought with them a big wagon of gear for both battles. My chance to serve again had arrived. I plopped my stuff on top of the wagon and began to tug the metal wagon of gear through the woods.
Quietly watching the heavy battle first was thrilling. As a water bearer my job was to simply hold a couple of jugs of water and when fighters came back to the line offer it to them. On occasion I was asked to dump it over a head or down a back. My favorite part of the job was simply using my imagination to pretend “what it would have really been like”. Watching so many armored people travel into the woods was exciting. It was easier to fanaticize about the real war when many came back red faced and tired and simply plopped to the ground. Armor was shed and big tired bodies were strewn about everywhere. It was easy to imagine what it might be like if they were all really injured and I was working the back lines watching wounded come in. To anyone who has never been a heavy fighter I highly recommend becoming a water bearer. For me, this was the best way to live the “dream” and pretend I was not in modern America, but back in medieval Europe.
After the battle had concluded we had to move the rapier gear to another location to set up a new rally point. There was a bit of time between the battles which gave people a chance to hydrate, change and load up with some much needed calories. At this point I hadn’t eaten, but I felt well enough. My brain had me somewhere else and my body was just along for the ride. I didn’t feel the fatigue set in until well after the second battle had concluded.
Watching both battles from a similar vantage point gave me a decent insight. I was able to spot a variety of personalities. I am a chronic people watcher and I love trying to figure out what makes people tick. I witnessed some honorable acts of kindness as well as some stubborn acts of selfishness. I saw some fighters who wanted to be noticed as individuals and others who did what was needed regardless of who was watching. There were so many who came up to the water bearers with thanks in their eyes and kindness on their lips every time they were offered a drink. I also saw the sad example of some folks throwing gear, swearing at their bad luck or the other side’s poor sportsmanship. This was a big game and I was tremendously happy to be in such a spot to witness all of the good and some of the bad. Another note to self: “Don’t be THAT guy.”
I still had no plans for food and no sleeping arrangements, but strangely I wasn’t all that worried until after the battles had concluded and I began to get tired. One of the fencers from my local group informed me that a friend of his who happened to be one of the Black Tigers from West Kingdom indicated that he had some work for me at his camp if I were interested. He said I should stop by at 6:00PM. After the gear had been hauled out of the woods to a common area where a car would come pick it up, I headed off on my own way.
I had plenty of time and traveled to the bottom of my hill again to journal about the day’s activities. While traveling to my hill I bumped into the woman who had set up the tent for me the other night. She asked how I was doing and I motioned that I was OK. She seemed happier with my response. She asked if they would see me today in camp and I motioned probably not. She smiled and said "OK, Good." I could tell that she was happier that I seemed to be doing better and would rest easier knowing I was cared for. After arriving at the bottom of my hill I allowed myself a little rest in the shade which was exactly what was needed before heading off to work again. I wasn’t certain what to expect, but I had to assume that food would be part of the bargain since my host knew my story and said he had work for me.
I arrived outside the West Kingdom gate before my host, Don Adam, had arrived. While at the bottom of my hill I drafted a note indicating that I was in search of Don Adam from the Black Tigers. I didn’t have to wait long before somebody came out and asked about me. He introduced himself as Blade of the Black Tigers. He was aware that I was coming and escorted me in after I showed him my note. He asked if I needed something to eat and I motioned, yes, a little. He came back with a handful of cool grapes and an invitation to the back room where I would be introduced to the camp. I hate the fact that I am so bad with names, but I do recall that EVERY person I met in that camp was more than kind. I was warmly welcomed and felt at ease right away. I consumed the grapes and topped off my water. Shortly after the introductions were done and my snack was well devoured I started helping with dinner. I helped slice up some smoked pork, water melon, cantaloupe and honey dew. I also helped chop up some of the lobster for the pasta…. Wow. What a great meal! As soon as I finished eating I started with the dishes and kitchen cleanup. While some might call that work I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got to be a fly on the wall and listen to a royal tent tell stories. I had no idea how many knights and crowns were in that room where I sat earlier until I saw them later get into their fine clothes and head out to various parties. The man I helped in the kitchen was a prince and one of the nicest gentlemen I met at Pennsic. It was a rare and wonderful experience and every moment spent in that camp was thoroughly enjoyable.
While I finished doing the dishes a few ladies in the camp came by and guided me to what would become my own personal space. They had set up a tent just for me. In it I found a cot and a modern sleeping bag. I was thrilled and touched by the kindness of their actions and the kindness I could see in their faces. This ‘experiment’ had really turned around and was looking good.
Whenever I was offered food I tried to only take a moderate portion. I really enjoyed the meal. It was delicious, but by the time I made my way to my tent I couldn’t help but wish I could go back for more. I lied down on the cot which felt awesome. It was far better than sleeping on the hard ground. While I rested there Blade of the Black Tigers came to my tent and offered a hello and a large bag of potato chips. I smiled and he said “Don’t worry about it, you can say hi next time we meet.” My hands had been sufficiently cleaned with all the dishes I had done. I went and wet my washcloth to wipe down my face. I then opened the bag of chips and snacked away. I had wondered about the old Franciscan rule of not storing up food, but decided I couldn’t pass up the generosity. I ate about 1/3 of the bag and I could tell that my body welcomed the salt on the chips. I smashed the rest of the bag so that it would pack easier. I figured smashed up chips offered as much nourishment as whole chips, but smashed ones were smaller. I didn’t mind eating crumbs and over the next 2 days I ate every bit of that bag.
With all the exertion during the day’s activities and a belly full of good food I rested my head. I couldn’t bring myself to use the modern sleeping bag, but I did use the cot. Being off the ground went a long way to keeping me warmer than I had been on some of the previous evenings. I could hear chatting all around outside but fell asleep very quickly after my tent had been zipped up.
Day 6 - Wednesday - July 31st
I woke up from a decent slumber at 5:45. I know this exactly because I made my way to the Porta John and passed the West Kingdom dining hall which had a clock in it. I decided to simply stay up after I returned. After washing up at the wash station I put away all the dishes I had done the night before and tidied up the kitchen area a bit. I didn’t want to leave without saying good-bye but I really enjoy the first couple hours in the morning when I can walk around while the rest of the camp is lifeless. I went back to the tent and rolled up my blanket, folded up the cot and packed up the sleeping bag that had been provided. With all my belonging packed for a stroll I made my way back to the kitchen area. I happened to come across one of the ladies who had set up the tent for me. She asked “Are you leaving us?” and I was glad that I was able to motion thank you again before bidding the group farewell.
She asked that I get word to them if ever I publish a record of this experience and I hope that they are able to read this and take pleasure in knowing that their kindness, food and lodging was a highlight of my week at Pennsic.
My day’s walk began in a southerly direction again. I enjoy the cool hilly woodland on the south end of the site especially when it is very early and most folks are still slumbering. I walked around the lake and followed the road up past the Pennsic University. Along the way I stopped for a time of quiet reflection near the small pond. Watching bees gather nectar and dragonflies play tag I found myself very happy to simply enjoy this small piece of quiet nature. This area would no doubt be booming with activity later in the evening but quiet moments like these are the ones I looked forward to. I eventually made my way back around to my willow tree where I took another foot of bark along for breakfast. My hips, knees and feet were a constant ache so I consumed a foot or more of bark.
Prior to Pennsic I had been part of a slave auction as a fundraiser. I offered 6 hours of service to the highest bidder to be executed at Pennsic during the time of the winner’s choosing. After the conclusion of that auction I knew that I would be in service to Mistress Katherine von Schlosserwald during the teaching of her class again. She had been camping with House Fox Rose at the top of the hill so I made my way in that direction once again. The end was in sight and even though I wrote in my journal daily about my inflamed and aching feet I now read signs of optimism as well. I was past the halfway point and consistently receiving generosity which improved the quality of life as every day passed.
Making my way up the hill I spotted about 30 or more seagulls on the battlefield. I couldn't help think of what it really would have been like after a battle. There might be dead bodies on the field covered in buzzards, ravens and crows. There would likely be a metallic smell in the air from the rusting metal and puddles of death. It is strange the way my mind works sometimes and while I found that image both strange and unwelcome seeing the large gathering of birds on the field was rather amenable. After crossing the field I came across a very bright sun shade displaying many colored banners. It was an enjoyable image adding to the feel of the medieval dream I was walking through. It was still early enough in the day to allow for a relatively unpopulated countryside. On one of the ropes holding up the sun shade I spotted a very bright yellow bird. It was small with a patch of black but mostly bright yellow. I nodded hello to the little fellow and then watched as he flew off in a roller coaster path. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people might miss quiet moments like these at Pennsic 42.
Along my journey I had been receiving comments from at least ten to twenty people each day. The vast majority of the comments regarded my eyewear. One gentleman who had been driving a golf cart stopped and said: "You have THE best garb I have seen in all of Pennsic." I smiled. I considered all the “pointy hats” and the fancy garb they had been wearing all about I was quite happy. At least one of my goals had been to try and inspire at least one person. I think I can safely say that at this point I had accomplished that and still had three more days to go.
The Circa 1200 class that I had helped set up and tear down went well and was very well attended. During the unpacking an event happened which lead to my accidentally speaking once again. While unpacking the car the vehicle was inadvertently locked with the keys inside. I was unaware of what happened. After the class was over we began to move the gear outside the tent. I wondered why the car was not being loaded, but followed the lead and simply stacked all the items outside the tent. At one point, Gavin who was one of the two instructors, said something to me indicating that the keys were locked in the car and I responded with “Oh really!?” He chuckled and I immediately slapped my hand over my mouth as if to put the words back in. Ugh. I spoke again. Those two words bothered me for at least the next few hours. Eventually a backup set of keys were obtained, the car was loaded and the instructors were off. My service was suspended while the Mistress had to make her way to a meeting. I pledged to meet her up at her camp to continue my service at 4:30.
I had a couple hours to kill on my way back to the camp where I would have to serve. Along the way I roamed around the merchant area where there had been some very talented artisan’s demonstrating their crafts. Without being able to speak I thoroughly enjoyed simply quietly watching the various artisans work on a variety of things. Eventually I broke out my charcoal and a piece of paper to ask some questions which were all well received.
As time progressed and I was due back at House Fox rose at 4:30 I made my way up the hill once more. I arrived at the camp and found a number of people sitting around and socializing. The camp was welcoming and I enjoyed simply sitting and listening to the conversations while I waited for Mistress Katherine to return. During the wait I was able to hang out with some old friends and meet some new ones. I continued to discover that meeting new people as a mute posed a significant challenge. Eventually the Mistress returned and I helped move some things around in the car and tote some gear back from the parking lot to her tent. After only a small amount of labor I was offered some snacks which I was glad to receive as the first food of the day. A few of the camp members had been practicing with the Pennsic choir and planned on going around singing along merchant’s row. That sounded like a decent plan and as the Mistress had no more work for me she released me from her service. I indicated that I would be back in time to walk down with them and listen to the choir.
As I went to the local water spigot to top off my canteen I met a woman in a tent nearby. She introduced herself and extended an offer of dinner to me. Other than listening to the choir I had no immediate plans and so I was pleased to accept. Other than the cheese, crackers and bits of sausage I hadn’t had a real meal that day so the idea of a steak dinner was very appealing. As it turns out I didn’t even have to perform any manual labor and simply sat in her camp with her husband and two of her friends. They told stories of many past Pennsics. I recall that it took about a half hour or so to finish with the meal preparation so I simply sipped my cool water in the shade and listened to interesting stories among people I had never before met. This was EXACTLY what I had envisioned when I planned this experiment. The meal was steak, stuffing and corn on the cob. All the food was hot and delicious. The company was enjoyable and all I had to do was eat and listen. I listened to the four tell stories from their 14 or 15 years of attending Pennsic. It was one of the more enjoyable, relaxing and satisfying moments during that week.
After the meal was complete and the time approached the beginning of the choir I indicated that I had to be heading on down the road. My hosts were very gracious and thanked me for coming. They informed me of the time and I realized that I was already about 20 minutes late for the choir. I had planned on walking down the hill with them and now I had to actually sprint down the hill to see if I could catch up with them along merchants row. It was not the best way to follow a decent meal but I’m glad that I was able to make it down the hill quick enough to find the choir as it was only a few songs into the performance. They sang a couple songs and then moved along the merchant row where they would stop in front of a willing merchant and sing a few more. They did that routine for three or four times. Walking and listening to the choir sing songs in 2 or three foreign languages added to my ability to simply drift off into my medieval dream. The singing was lovely and the weather was awesome. I am amazed at how well a collection of strangers could get together and learn new songs in languages they couldn’t speak and sound so awesome with so little practice. The music was a gift I was given which I was very thankful for.
After the choir was done I simply roamed around merchant’s row. While roaming around I bumped into one of the gentlemen from West Kingdom. He indicated that there as a gift for me at their camp and wondered if he might escort me there. I was a little embarrassed to be honest. They appreciated my service and had a gift. I felt funny at first and then I’m sad to say that I began to be a little worried. It was already about eight o’clock or so. It had been a little bit rainy on and off and I still didn't have a place to stay. I was worried that the gift would be one more thing I would have to carry around and I was already getting tired. When we entered the gate the gentleman did a short whistle. One man I hadn't met before jumped up when he saw us. He entered a tent and then came out with a speech. He said something like this: "I wasn't here the other day to speak to you and yet I have heard much about you. I want to tell you I find what you are doing very inspiring." He went on to say that it was his first Pennsic and he felt a bit like he was on a pilgrimage. He respected what I had been doing and thought it was one of the most inspiring things in any kingdom. He personally wanted to give me a gift. He then handed me a pilgrim's badge made of pewter. The badge looked like a lion holding a heart. He said "Courage... and love.” I was so stunned and privileged that I didn’t know what to say even if I could talk. I felt a bit silly as I began to tear up. The week had worn harshly on me at times and this moment seemed to make it all worthwhile. He understood what I was doing and wanted to make sure I knew that he understood and frankly I was honored. As I left his camp I was on cloud nine and had to quickly find a spot where I could write.
It was the evening of Midnight Madness and there were performers coming out everywhere. The biggest shopping day of the week drew out the biggest crowds, some of the best clothing and definitely the best people watching experience of the week. While walking around and soaking in the visuals of the Midnight Madness experience I decided to take a break and journal. As it was well into darkness by now I found a vendor with enough ambient lighting surrounding it and I simply sidled up next to the tent to write. While I wrote a few people stopped to talk. One of the 13 year old boys who had been camping in Fox Rose stopped by to ask some questions and say hi. He ended the conversation with "You are very talented. Wow. You are definitely someone to stop and watch." I love children and his reaction made me smile. I think he continued to be very curious about my hair and the fact that I was able to talk but chose not to for the whole week. A couple more people stopped by. The first said "Awesome look. You captured everything perfectly." The second person said "You are doing that [writing in my journal] this evening. I must say I admire your dedication." I was beginning to get the idea that I was becoming the medieval mascot that people were OK with seeing all over the place.
I walked and walked and walked. I went down each row of merchants row at least three times. I wasn’t looking for anything, I was just looking. I didn’t actually go into the shops, I just looked from outside and enjoyed the people watching exercise and the performers. One of the “performers” was hawking medieval remedies and “real” historic religious relics guaranteed to cure what ails you. It turns out that I recognized the voice of the man hawking the religious trash. It was the gentleman of the camp where I had stayed on Monday evening. I also happened to notice that he was hawking a cure to the Middle Kingdom’s next King. The crowd was drawing and I approached the con artist. He said something along the lines of “Here comes somebody who will surely know the value of these historic relics.” Without talking I simply verbalized the sound of “tsk tsk tsk” and wagged my finger at him. He laughed as I walked away. It was a fun evening but I was getting very tired and it was getting very late for one who rises before the sun.
At this point I decided to take up the offer to stay at West Kingdom whenever I needed to. I headed back that way and bumped into Don Adam again. He asked if he could help me and I indicated that I was sleepy. He directed me to the tent they had still set up and I plodded on to where I would sleep. Thus ends and yet begins the second worst night of Pennsic.
Day 7 - Thursday - August 1st
I woke up at about 12:30 in the morning with a strange abdominal cramp. I made my way to the local Porta John all the while thinking that this felt like early stages of a kidney stone. I had experienced the joys of a kidney stone 5 times in the past. I hoped it wasn’t but as I sat in the portable plastic box for about 30 minutes without being able to produce anything worthy of such a trip I decided that this was going to be a bad night. A number of people came up banging on the door. As a mute friar all I could do was bang back. Eventually I gave up and headed back to my tent. I wondered for a while what I should do. Before long the pain began to travel along a line which might exist if you tied a string from your kidney to your belly button. Yup. This was going bad. I started to pack up my stuff then realized that I wouldn’t make it. My insurance card and mundane clothing and wallet were all in the truck I arrived in. I would have to walk to the top of the hill, wake the driver, get my stuff and then ask him to take me to the hospital. I eventually dropped all my gear and took off without it. The pain was getting worse rather quickly and I didn’t want to waste time packing.
I got up the hill after a few short stops where I had to fall to my knees, curl in a ball and whimper. Getting, worse, much, faster, now… I got to the tent of my friends and simply called out their names: “Mark… Erika.” Pause…. “Mark… Erika.” Sleepy response “What?” “Mark, Erika, I think I need to go to the hospital.” Pause… tent flap opened and a relieved Mark answered. He later explained that his relief was due to the fact that I was not his son. He at first thought my voice sounded like that of his son who had been sleeping in another nearby tent. As a father I completely understand his relief. He wasn’t happy that I was hurting, but he was relieved that his son was not. I quickly and groaningly indicated my plight and eventually we made our way to the hospital. I know I changed. I recall knowing that I didn’t want to enter the hospital in my robes. Later I realized that I had my mundane clothing on, (including a hat to hide my tonsure). I am rather sure I never entered a tent to change but I have no recollection of changing out in the open camp. Pain does funny things in the middle of the night.
Long story short: Fastest stone I have passed thus far. I got drugs, the stone passed and we headed back to camp. I never saw the stone and the doctor saw four stones still in the kidney, but he one likely causing the pain had already been evacuated. I was back in camp, back in robes and back silent before about 5:30AM. Feeling much better I made my way back to West Kingdom. I was tired when I arrived and planned on sleeping a bit more. The cot, the sleeping bag, my sleeping roll were already packed and stacked. I just used the cot as a pillow and spread out on the ground. I woke up about 90 minutes later when a brief rain caused a river of water to run under the tent and soak my back. That bad omen meant that my short night of sleep had ended. I grabbed my stuff and headed on out before most of the camp even stirred.
There were a couple battles that day that I hoped to go play water boy for again. The battles were the Heavy Tower battle and the Rapier Bridge battle. Both would be on the main field but wouldn’t start until about ten so I took my time getting there. The stone had passed and the pain was gone but I still had a bit of discomfort in my abdomen so there was no point in over doing it. I strolled slowly around and made my way, as I often did, past Pennsic University eventually. As the battle approached I decided to make my way back to the camp and see if my friends who would be fighting this day needed help hauling gear to and from the field. I found them preparing for battle and loading a wagon which I gladly hauled to the field.
The fact that the kingdom from which I hailed never came close to winning the battles never bothered me one bit. I thoroughly enjoyed living the fantasy while watching them. Mixing a bit of Gatorade and hauling jugs of water didn’t bother me at all. I loved having a front row spot for the battle. Seeing fighters prepare for battle, fight and return tired, hot and thirsty only to rest for a while and go do it again… over and over. I had a blast. I had planned on doing water bearing for the rapier battle as well, but by the time came I was getting rather drained myself. I took up a shady spot at first where I rested and waited. At some point the wife of the friend who drove me to the hospital asked if I might do a favor. The hospital driver would soon be fighting in the rapier battle. She had knowledge that it was planned that immediately after the battle he would be called into a battlefield court where he would be elevated. It seemed that he had arrived to the battle without his fighting tabard, probably because he didn’t get enough sleep that evening. She asked if I might go and fetch it. I did. I became the crazy running barefoot friar. The image I have in my head of the event is rather amusing but in hind sight I should have probably taken a better path. I ran some of the way there and most of the way back on the dirt road. Only after I returned with the tabard (in time for the battle to start) did I realize that my feet felt like I just ran over quite a bit of hot sand paper. I had little cuts and raw skin on the bottom of my feet. I was happy to return with the garment in time, but what a day this had become.
I began the first battle as water-boy but I was a bit tuckered out and decided to leave the water bearing stations to others for the remaining two rounds of the battle. After the combat there was a battle field court where the hospital-driver, Mark Hepler, received the honor of becoming the next bronze ring of the Middle Kingdom. Hoobah!
After each of the battles I was able to offer my assistance hauling gear back to a few different camps. By the end of the last trip up the hill with the last wagon full of armor I was about spent. I decided to spend the rest of that evening with my friends. It appears that my adventure started out rocky and begun to turn around. The kidney stone was an unwanted wrinkle as well. Dinner was being prepared when I finished hauling gear into camp and so I was happy to agree to stick around for some good hot food. Somebody showed up in their camp with a large cooler filled with frozen crab legs. On the menu for the evening was a good spicy jambalaya. The camp cooks decided to thaw the crab, chop it up and add it to the pot. Great idea! That allowed me to offer my service cracking and shelling crab. The smell was amazing and the finished bowl of hot goodness was delectable. After doing what little dishes there were I rested for a bit. Our Kingdom was holding court this evening and I had planned on going down to court with the rest of the crew.
The wagon was again loaded. This time instead of armor it was loaded with a cooler full of “drinking-court” ingredients and about eight or nine folding chairs. We made our way to the Middle Kingdom Court at the Great Hall which was to start at 8:00. One problem though, the cooler was loaded up with cocktail ingredients, but no ice. I motioned to one of the campmates for cash. I was given $20 and directions to buy as much ice as would fit in the cooler. I started on with a brisk pace hoping to get to the store and to court before the crew got settled in and needed their chairs. I made it just in time, but trying to communicate to the shop that I wanted three bags of ice was a bit more challenging than you might think. I was yelled at for grabbing ice without paying for it. I tried to indicate that I needed to know how big the bag was before I bought it. I motioned that I want three. She charged me for one and gave me change. I motioned I wanted three and she thought I mean three dollars’ worth and charged me for one more bag. I again showed three fingers and she got it…”Oh three bags?” Yes, finally and I was on my way again.
I made it to court just in time to get the chairs set up, and the drinks mixed as the royals approached. Court was huge. I had never seen a Pennsic court and was hoping to listen in. It turns out that if you travel with a group who plan on attending “drinking court” you might not get to hear the announcements. This is true even more so when you sit on the outside of an already filled to capacity building. I ended up getting up and leaving that group only to stand and try and listen to the court from a more reasonably quiet area. The only area I could find was standing on crushed gravel. My feet were already sore and were aching by the end of the evening. I was happy to listen to a number of awards, a peer put on vigil and a Knight was made. I didn’t know any of the people but I realized that this type of ceremony is really what our group is about. Do stuff, do better stuff, get recognized for doing it and get called into court. I was a little disappointed how little a lot of the audience seemed to care. Seeing all the heraldic displays really added to my little medieval dream.
After the court was over and people were mulling around I was waiting to see if anyone would be heading back to the camp where the chairs would be returned to. The wagon was loaded with the cooler of ice, mixers and chairs. It was then that I realized that the wagon had a flat tire. I was informed by one of the camp residents that the tire had, in fact, been flat all week long. No wonder the darn thing was so challenging to pull. I moved the wagon to less rocky ground and waited patiently. As I waited another amazing thing happened. Sir Thomas, a knight from my kingdom and a man who I respect exceedingly approached me. He indicated that he had heard of what I was doing and he respected and admired my endeavor. He wished to give me a token and handed me a silver penny. I was shocked. My feet hurt and I was a bit disgruntled about not hearing all of court and then my entire mood was turned around. A lesson I had to keep learning over and over. Try to inspire and find yourself inspired by others. I regained my focus as the medieval mascot and with new energy I plodded back to camp with the wagon of ice, drinks and chairs. It was already getting late but I didn’t plan to stay in that camp for the night.
My friends planned on traveling on what they called a “walk-a-bout”. A walk-a-bout is when a pack move through the roads of Pennsic, drinking, chatting, drinking, strolling, drinking and visiting the roads of the southern lands of Pennsic all while drinking. I was tired, couldn’t drink and couldn’t chat so I decided to make other plans. With the wagon safely returned I gathered up my bedroll and my gear and readied myself for a bit more walking. Off I went in a southerly direction.
I thought a lot on the way and reflected on the week that was nearly over. I had been asked a number of times to write about my adventure and share it when I returned. I couldn’t explain it right away. That would be too much to ask. The best way I can explain it is that I began to think of myself as a chef. I was a chef who had travelled to a foreign land to try out new things. I went to appraise new and different foods and to derive an insight into other cultures and cuisines. I was doing something unusual and unexpected and would be asked to reflect on it. I would be asked for my opinion as a chef might be asked “Is it good?” “How does it taste?” “Did you like it?” I decided to commit my responses as the chef might, only after proper reflection. I would reflect before commenting to anyone. I would swish the flavors around. I would savor the new tastes and reflect on the new smells. I would contemplate things that might be “good” and also those that might be “bad”. I would postpone passing judgment until I had enough time to rationally reflect and make a sound coherent opinion. I would think about what it was like in part and in whole before offering any sort of opinion on the experience. When asked I would simply say “It was memorable, but I need time to reflect first.”
I walked a bit, reflected a bit and wrote a bit. Eventually when I decided that it was late and I needed to scope out a sleeping spot I made my way around the usual dancing tent and other closed shelters I thought I might sneak into. It turns out that after Midnight Madness a lot of tents were either sealed up or no longer available. As I pondered where I might go I sat on a stool outside the small grocery store. Three folks stopped by to bid me a safe journey home and thank me for my endeavor. Those words helped lighten my mood. I got up to make my way to my willow tree for another snack and bumped into the folks from the Grey Gargoyles camp where I stayed on Monday. The Baroness asked that I might help them break camp tomorrow although she couldn’t offer quarters as they would be leaving. I tried to indicate that I would appreciate sleeping quarters tonight and she understood. She was heading out for a royal party but indicated that I could sleep in the populace pavilion with the sheepskin rug if I liked. That made me exceedingly happy. I made my way in the dark to my next sleeping spot and thankfully put my head down to end my longest day at Pennsic. I fell asleep almost instantly.
Day 8 - Friday - August 2nd
I woke to what would become my last day at Pennsic. When I woke I thought that I would be heading back up the hill to spend my final night, but that would change and you’ll find out later. I woke in the Grey Gargoyles camp and we began breaking camp rather early. Not being a Pennsic veteran I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did not expect that 90% of the campers would be breaking camp so early. I was very surprised to see that almost everyone at the bottom of that hill was either breaking camp or almost already done packing. We were like everyone else in that region: Packing, boxing, cleaning, folding and stuffing gear into cars. I helped out as much as I could but all the while I was thinking on the fact that I had little over 24 hours left. I would soon be able to patch up my feet with super glue. My feet were becoming very swollen constantly ached and I really looked forward to putting on my modern shoes again. I had pledged my assistance to the folks I came with at noon on Friday. I planned on helping them break camp the following morning, but expected to head up there before 12 O’clock and find them all resting. I finished helping pack as best I could and waved my good-bye to the Grey Gargoyles camp. I received some snack food, jerky, nuts and fruit before I left and was thankful for it even though I wasn’t nearly as hungry this morning as I had been on past days.
After snacking along the road I finally made my way to the top of the hill where my service was due. When I got there I was shocked to find out the news. I was asked “Have you heard the news? There is a storm rolling in and so everyone is breaking camp today.” Wow. So that was why 90% of Pennsic seemed to be falling as I watched. That was it. In an instant my Pennsic was over. I thought I had one more day, but now it was over. I made my way to a tent where I changed into shorts and a T-shirt. I then went back to my friends Mark and Erika and stood at their tent opening. I said “So, what can I help you with?” The look on their face was priceless. They looked so shocked at hearing me speak and seeing me in something other than my stinky robes. They glanced at each other and began laughing.
The friar experiment was over. I had modern clothing on. I applied super glue to the cuts on the bottom of my feet and then put on sandals. I began eating all the snacks I had, some fruit and anything lying around. We broke camp, but I did so as a mundane modern man, not as a friar so that has no place here. I will simply say that prior to the end of the week I didn’t know how I would feel to shed the robes again, but it only took me about 30 seconds to be happy to do so when the finish line had been crossed.
The friar experiment is done.