Brigadoon did not emerge this year.
I would not have been at Pennsic this year (although until the plague hit, I had flirted with the idea of a brief visit), and I had not attended last year. So the keening loss so many of my friends are feeling is dulled for me. But it has proved out the odd prescience I had had in 2018 to take special care and to cherish my time there–to see it as a pilgrimage, and I am left wondering whether I should celebrate my apparent gift of prophecy or mourn it. Now, the crystal ball is dimmed, cracked and cloudy, and I am suspended in liminal space, not knowing what will be revealed at the end, and whether I can ever go back. In any case, should that day come, it will be necessarily different.
The years blur together, and I’ve forgotten just what happened which year, except for a few exceptions (the year with fireworks! The year(s) of the Great Storm! The year I was put on vigil for the Pelican!) The edges of each year have softened into each other, and so I remember Pennsic as a place more than a time–but always I had the assumption that the place would go on without me.
And it highlights the place of prominence I have given for almost thirty years to a hobby that some part of me now questions in this new, uncertain world. It seems almost frivolous now to have a closet full of medieval clothing–far more than I will ever wear again. But yet, that community of friends built in those thirty years lends me strength and has kept me connected over the past four months, inspiring a creative spark that has sometimes sputtered in those months when faced with the terror of the current moment. And that same hobby has done far more for me than to drain my wallet. It has provided lessons on working with people towards a common goal–lessons that have made me both a better leader and a better follower. It turned someone who had always loved words and language into a writer and an editor, and to share these efforts with the world–and to know that sometimes, what I’d written or edited made a difference, or made someone smile, or make someone think.
All of these were part of my nineteen years editing the Pennsic newspapers (all but the first year known as the Pennsic Independent). I was a part of a team that stepped in in 2000 to produce a paper when the plans for the previous one fell through just six weeks before Pennsic, and it became the defining characteristic of my Pennsic experiences for close to two decades. It meant that the paper and its deadlines dictated my life, and not always positively. I often felt like a stranger in my own camp–my evenings were spent proofing and prepping the next day’s copy; if I got done early, I might get in on the tail end of a party or gathering in my camp–but I rarely knew the in-jokes, and even when I was able to participate, I felt like an intruder. I even missed most of an apprentice’s Laurel vigil. But I kept going back, because I felt the work was important in creating community, and that I was using my talents and labour not only to feed my own soul, but towards something bigger than the sum of its parts.
And there were the other small pleasures. Driving down I-79 that last mile or so, with my windows open so I could catch that scent of wood smoke. The mist rising off the lake as I set out on my early morning walk, seeing the camp come to life, enjoying the architecture, stopping in for a drink of water with friends. The marketplace during Midnight Madness, lit up by torchlight, swirling with music and laughter. The long hike out to the archery range, and the joy of the clout shoot. Shopping. Senior shifts at Herald’s Point, and ice cream deliveries. The stars, the Milky Way, and the odd ISS pass or meteor flash. And the side trips to Fallingwater, which occupies its own special place in my heart.
The photo above holds a special place in my heart. Never did I ever feel more in tune with the medieval past than, as a herald, processing in, three abreast, with the heralds from the East and Middle Kingdoms, with our Crowns and people behind us. The Queen whose voice I was had been Queen at my very first Pennsic 28 years before.
The last two years at Pennsic, I spent the morning of the middle Saturday walking the Unofficial Half Marathon. Today, as I hiked out to Albion Falls, I took part in the virtual version (although I only did 10 km.) Tomorrow, there’s the virtual version of the annual party in honour of Sts. Marg and Rita, the one party at Pennsic I could reliably attend since it took place during the day. The Pennsic War Facebook page has been running all kinds of silly updates, and there are new classes every day on the Pennsic University YouTube channel. There’s even a virtual edition of the Pennsic Independent that anyone can contribute to. And we know it’s not the same, that it’s a pale simulacrum, but it’s what we have, and it’s what reality looks like this year.