Five Years of Pennsic

Last summer, July 26 -August 10, 2019 I attended my fifth Pennsic: Pennsic 48.

Following my second Pennsic (Pennsic 45) I started a tradition of writing a “Top Ten” post with my favorite memories of the event. But this year was a bit different for me. I was over-committed, exhausted, and stressed – and had been for quite a while leading up to the event – which led to mistakes and offenses committed by yours truly. After the event was over, I struggled to come up with a list of the good things that happened and so my “Top Ten” post for the year was neglected.

Now that apologies have been made and time has helped to soften the sharp edges of memory, I wanted to revisit my time at Pennsic last year for the sake of posterity at the very least. A wise man suggested that instead of my usual list of “Top Ten” moments, I write a more general overview of my past five years at Pennsic and how my experiences at War have evolved. I found this to be a clever compromise and so here we are 😊

A moment of joy with dear friends at Pennsic 48 (2019).

My first Pennsic was Pennsic 44, in the modern year 2015. While I had joined the SCA in the summer of 2013 and so technically been a member for two years, I had only attended a dozen or so small, local events. This Pennsic proved to be a catalyst for my future as a SCAdian.

In another post dedicated solely to my experiences at Pennsic 44, I made mention that I believed that first Pennsic War to be the event that spurred me on to greater involvement in the SCA. That being the case, a lot of changes took place between my first and second Pennsic. I became an officer for my local group, the Barony of Ponte Alto, as Webminister, Deputy Chatelain, and Archery Marshal. I joined a new household – The Honorable Company of Grimmsfield – run by (recently made) Master Stephan Grimm and Lady Gunnora Grimm, whom I’d met while camping at my first Pennsic. And while I’d experimented in many areas of the Arts & Sciences, I discovered that my path in the SCA would lie in the way of service.

Now for both my first and second Pennsic (44 & 45) I camped with House Longbow, run by Earl Mika Longbow and his wife Ursula, on block N22. House Longbow is a great group of people with years of experience in the SCA, welcoming hosts, and excellent friends. I will always look back fondly on my time in that camp and with those people who helped me enjoy my first experiences at Pennsic. Alas, change is inevitable, and so by the second year at Pennsic there were already plans being made for my new household, Grimmsfield, to break away from Longbow and form a new camp exclusive to our small but energetic group of household members. And so my third Pennsic, and every Pennsic since, has been spent camping with Grimmsfield on block N22. Yes, we are still neighbors and friends with House Longbow 😊

But I appear to be getting ahead of myself a bit. My second Pennsic was just as (if not more) enjoyable as my first. Lots of new experiences, new friends, and new memories were made. This event was my first time volunteering to retain for Royalty. It was also my first time volunteering to work as a waterbearer for the battles held during War Week. These two “jobs” are some of my favorites and I’ve volunteered in the same way every Pennsic since.

Retaining at Pennsic 45 on Middle Sunday during the Champions Battles.

Pennsic 45 was also the year I managed to take only ONE class at Pennsic University (that involved a very painful walk to the Bog and back in new shoes 😢) . Though I had a detailed schedule planned out well in advance of the event with lots of interesting classes that I wanted to take… things didn’t quite go to plan. One of the things I’ve learned now is that my bandwidth for the day is limited to three activities MAX. Any more than that and something is going to fall off. This year, it was classes.

Another first for me this Pennsic was trying out for the Archery Champions shoot. Pennsic 45 actually remains the ONLY Pennsic in which I tried out for the Archery Champions shoot… I did not make the team 😉

Luckily this was the Pennsic that I began my “Top Ten” lists and so I’m able to look back, read, and remember my favorite moments from that year.

The Grimmsfield banner flying at the camp entrance at Pennsic 46 (2017).

My third Pennsic was Pennsic 46. Not only was I camping with a new camp, but it was also my first year spending both Peace Week and War Week at Pennsic. In addition to helping form a new camp, another big change that happened after my second Pennsic was my involvement with newcomers to the SCA and my work as a Chatelain. By this time I had taken on the role of Deputy Chatelain for my Barony and at Pennsic I had volunteered to fill shifts at Newcomers Point. Little did I know at the time that my experience at Newcomers Point would later lead me to become a member of Pennsic staff as the Newcomer Activities Coordinator and the Kingdom Chatelain for Atlantia.

Pennsic 46 was the year I barely adhered to my schedule. I found that I had much more fun relaxing in camp that year and spending time with my chosen family in the new space that we had created for ourselves. The commitments that I did keep were in volunteering at Newcomers Point, teaching (for the first time) two different classes for Pennsic University, and waterbearing during battles. Highlights from Pennsic 46 can be found in Top Ten from that year.

An example of how my Pennsic schedule usually looks. As mentioned above, I’m lucky to complete three of these activities a day.

Looking back on the past five Pennsics, I feel that Pennsic 46 was the best of them so far. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I struck that balance between staying busy and relaxing that can be so, so hard to find at an event where there is something happening every minute of the day and night.

Pennsic 47 proved to be a bit more stressful than past Wars. I can say now that navigating a two week event while in a relationship has a different set of challenges. It’s difficult enough to find that balance between fun and work as a single lady 😉, but add a partner into the mix and there is a whole new set of obligations to fulfill. I won’t say much more about this Pennsic – my Top Ten is here – other than lessons were learned.

And that brings me to Pennsic 48, my most recent Pennsic War. This year not only did I become an official member of Pennsic staff as the Newcomers Activities Coordinator, but I was also a member of the Royal Retinue for Their Majesties Christoph and Adelhait of Atlantia. What’s that saying about all work and no play?

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, mistakes were made and feelings were hurt. Those mistakes have now been atoned for and hurt feelings made better, but at the time they did make my Pennsic War that year significantly less fun. I found myself spending most nights hanging out quietly in camp or attending official functions as a retainer, than out at parties or down in the Bog as I normally would have been. I was more focused on doing my job as Pennsic staff, as a teacher for Pennsic U, and as a member of the Royal Retinue than on the traditional activities that I found fun or relaxing at past Pennsics.

The new and improved camp gate. Photo credit to Master Stephan Grimm.

Despite the amount of work required there were still some fun highlights to my War that year. The first was FINALLY being able to attend Fizzball with my friends Ronan & Leesa and their camp Morning Wood. Fizball (a game of “baseball” played with beer cans instead of baseballs) has been on my Pennsic schedule for years but it’s always been one of the things that has fallen off due to other obligations. This year I made sure to go. The theme for the Morning Wood Fizzball team was the Wizard of Oz and so I went as the Wicked Witch of the West (medieval style). Participating in Fizzball was the one activity that year that didn’t feel like “work”. I didn’t feel like I had to be “on” – doing or saying the right thing in case someone was watching – and it was nice to be able to relax a bit in that moment.

My somewhat historically accurate men’s interpretation of the Wicked Witch of the West. Photo credit to Lord Ronan Mac Imair.

Another highlight was being made a Court Baroness, along with my Companion sister, Marguerite. It was a (somewhat) unexpected surprise and a pleasant way to end two weeks of physical, mental, and emotional labor.

My Companion sister, Marguerite, and I in our new coronets – gifts from Her Majesty Adelhait – on the last Friday of Pennsic.

And, in keeping with years past, another highlight was once again marshaling for the St. Sebastian’s archery shoot, hosted by the Kingdom of Atlantia. This year we had matching hats!

Marshaling at St. Sebastian’s with Baroness Karin and Mistress Martelle.

Lastly, it was a privilege to spend this Pennsic with my Peer Duchess Adelhait, her husband Duke Christoph, and our household, Honey Badger, as They served as Royals of Atlantia at Pennsic. Having spent a year as retinue, attending both Gulf Wars and Pennsic, I can honestly say it is one of the most time consuming and stressful jobs that one can take on in the SCA. It is an emotional rollercoaster full of highs and lows, and you really have to love the people you serve in order to make it worth it.

Myself, my Companion sister Marguerite, and Their Graces, Adelhait and Christoph (so charming) at Pennsic 48.

My First Pennsic

Funny enough I started writing about my first Pennsic as a part of my “Five Years of Pennsic” post, but quickly found that I was spending far too much time recounting the details of my first year at this incredible event. I realized that if I kept on like I was that my “Five Years” post would never end. And so I created this.

My first Pennsic was Pennsic 44, held in 2015. I attended Pennsic for only one week this year – War Week – and I had no idea what to expect. While I first began playing in the SCA in 2013, I had only attended maybe a dozen small events in those two years and I still considered myself very new to the Society. I had yet to take on any responsibilities and was still exploring the many activities and crafts that the SCA had to offer. Looking back, I believe that my attendance at Pennsic this year is what spurred my future involvement in the SCA, my interest in becoming a local officer, and my commitment to service.

That year I was invited to camp with House Longbow, the archery household of Earl Mika Longbow and his wife Ursula, on block N22. My friend, Lord Robert Cameron de Grey, offered his carousel pavilion up for lodging to be shared by myself and another member of the camp. I remember we put so much effort into decorating the pavilion after arriving on that middle Friday – hanging colorful saris and Moroccan lanterns along the interior walls – that even Cameron stated how jealous he was of our improvised set-up. I wish now that I had taken pictures of our home for that week, that I had taken more pictures of Pennsic that year in general, but I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t think to take pictures or post anything on social media until the event had ended!

Now in the weeks leading up to the event I had cobbled together a schedule of sorts – listing 3-4 activities that I planned to do each day. I wasn’t very successful in keeping to that schedule and looking back I’m amazed at how much free time I must have had to just relax and wander around. But there were several activities that I made sure to prioritize, namely shooting archery and attending parties. And so, my first day at Pennsic was spent on the archery range. I was a Marshal in Training (MiT) at the time for Target Archery, and so my first MiT shift happened at Atlantia’s St. Sebastian’s shoot on Middle Saturday. It was my first time as a Marshal in Training and I remember how much I enjoyed meeting people from around the Knowne World and enabling them to shoot archery and have fun.

The next day was Opening Ceremonies and it was held in the morning that year. I remember I wore a blue polyester dress and by the time the Ceremonies were over, I was SWELTERING. I went back to camp and immediately changed into something made of linen!

The Barony of Ponte Alto during Opening Ceremonies of Pennsic. I’m one of those dark shapes 😂 Photo credit to Baron Naran Numuchi.

Sunday night was the Lowdy Toadie – a party that’s held annually at Casa Bardicci, a reproduction of a 15th century Venetian villa. This night remains one of my favorite SCA memories. There is nothing like Casa Bardicci at night – stepping in to an incredibly realistic Italian villa, filled with torchlight, music, and dance – created one of those “Medieval Moments” that SCAdians all live to experience.

A view of Casa Bardicci from across the lake. Image Courtesy of http://diligentdwarves.blogspot.com/2010/09/pennsic-house-pay-off.html

What I most remember about that night was that two friends of mine – a couple with two small children – had constructed a covered wagon of sorts so that they could bring their kids along at night so as not to leave them unattended in camp. And so the children were brought into the Lowdy Toadie party at Casa Bardicci, asleep in a covered wagon! And they slept peacefully there for hours, despite the music and revelry taking place around them. Another couple with their children sleeping in a similar wagon showed up and joined us. And so we created a “Children Parking Zone” in the courtyard of the Casa. Afterwards, we all helped push the wagon back up that awful hill that lies between the lake and the “Serengeti”, where we were camped that year.

The Monday of War Week was spent on the archery range, shooting war points in order to score for our side of the War that year. I’m sad to say this might be the only year at Pennsic that I managed to complete every war point station! Each year since became busier and busier and while I always made it out to the range to work as a Marshal, I rarely enjoyed shooting for pleasure.

Shooting war points on the Pennsic archery range.

That night was the Hafla Jadida, held at Camp Mileacre. My friend who had lent me the use of his pavilion, Cameron, was playing host that evening. There was hookah and drumming and belly dancing… and a minor kerfuffle in which the staff from the Pennsic Performing Arts Pavilion asked us to drum more quietly so as not to disturb the performances that were taking place across the street. We left shortly after!

The next day I played babysitter to my friend Cameron’s two daughters while he fought in the battle taking place that morning. We explored the Pennsic playground, ate ice cream, and did arts & crafts in camp. That night we celebrated the birthday of my friend Annika’s son, Sebastian, with a S’mores Bar hosted in the Barony of Ponte Alto’s camp.

Wednesday afternoon I attended a three hour bardic coaching class, taught by Master John Littleton. That class was the highlight of my Pennsic University experience that year. Each student stood and performed at the front of the class and Master John offered feedback for improvement. It was like a private concert for and by those new to the bardic (performing arts) community in the SCA and I LOVED it.

That night was the traditional night for Midnight Madness at Pennsic. Midnight Madness is the only night during the week that the merchant area is open late and vendors are selling their stock at reduced prices. It’s a hugely popular activity, incredibly crowded and incredibly fun! Much alcohol was imbibed and much amber was later purchased as a result. It was a great night.

Thursday is traditionally the day that the Kingdom of Atlantia holds its Court. I can’t for the life of me remember how I spent that day, but that evening was spent in Court watching new friends receive awards.

A photograph taken during Court, trying to shield myself from the powerful Pennsic sun. Photo credit to Master Stephan Grimm.

So what day is really the last day of Pennsic? That answer can vary depending on the person or camp. According to the rules of the event everyone (and their personal property) must be off site by noon on Sunday. However, some folks start packing up and leaving as early as Thursday so that they can get home and have the weekend to recover before returning to the “real world” on Monday. What has become my tradition (and the tradition of the folks that I camp with) is to spend Friday morning saying goodbye to people and activities before beginning the pack out process Friday afternoon. Friday afternoon and evening is then spent packing the majority of the camp’s common areas – the common tents, the kitchen, the shower, etc. Saturday morning is then spent packing personal belongings so that everyone in camp can be finished and off site by Saturday afternoon.

And so Friday morning was spent saying goodbye to the archery range. I went and shot one last time before returning to camp to begin helping with the pack up process.

Writing this post has reminded me why I always take the time after Pennsic to write down my favorite moments from the War. Letting five years pass since my first Pennsic has allowed some memories of that year to slip away. This has proved especially saddening during this year – the year of COVID. Being unable to make new memories now has shown the value of those times gone past and the joy that spending time with friends and family has wrought.

To the good times.