Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Things You Do When You're Not Doing That Thing You Do

Avocations, hobbies and enthusiasms add a lot to life beyond work; you are in control more, you can put your real self into it, you can live larger than you're normally allowed to. Some people need these escape venues a lot; others like the normal pattern of home/work/family just fine. If you're possessed of an overactive imagination, you'd be of the first type. Fishing is a Zen-like, simple pasttime; fly tackle and boats are expensive but it can be done very simply just as well. Surf casting always looked like fun to me; once in North Carolina we saw people pull in several very big fish of unknown types, and they were definitely looking forward to a delightful meal with friends and family. Tough for the fish, but good times for their captors.

My hobby for decades was finding, collecting and enjoying books and records, but I had to stop a while ago or rent storage space! After that I read everything in the local libraries of interest (to me), and the internet unfortunately makes finding rarities too easy to be fun. Once I looked for a book for over thirty years before finding it -- quite satisfying.

Nancy's avocation has and probably always will be traveling...in search of the perfect beach, blue sky and sapphire water; an outdoor massage under a billowing white tent being a good way to while away an afternoon in such a spot. She would be very happy never to come back, too.

I needed a creative outlet after my time in the hectic world of exhibits was over, and found an exciting one in 18th-century reenacting. The social and political history of the Enlightenment era, along with its material culture, had always drawn me in, so I joined a local group which portrayed colonial militia, French-Canadian militia, and the Pennsylvania State Regiment (all in the 1754 - 1781 period). Ancestors were in the French and Indian War and the Revolution (one, wounded at Brandywine, hid in a culvert, survived and lived to an old age), so a direct connection was there. Zacharias Reiss and his family constructed the only purpose-built Continental military hospital at Yellow Springs, PA, and a young daughter, Susannah, offered a drink to Washington during the retreat from the defeats around Philadelphia (addressing him as "Your Majesty," to which he replied, "There are no kings in America, little lady.")

Above is a picture of French Regulars and Marines relaxing to music inside old Fort Niagara. Despite a soggy night battle with the British and colonial Rangers (wool doesn't dry out too fast), while there we really enjoyed hearing real French Canadians sing and play in the very spot their distant ancestors did in the 1750's. With everything either original or documented reproductions, and only fireplaces and candles, you really felt the part.

In the other picture, French militia (armed ordinary citizens and farmers of New France, a small but formidable guerilla force that, along with their numerous native allies, kicked the British Empire in the seat for years), advance across the field brushing the lobsterbacks aside. We loved pouring down wooded hills to attack a British wagon train or column, with the Indians screaming, smeared in red and black paint, tomahawks whirling in the air. At Old Mill Village, the spectators, led along a dark mountain trail by the Brits, played the part of colonials marching from an attacked fort to safety -- or so they thought until 40 of us jumped up and scared the s--- out of them! The best part of the scenario was a real Abenaki Indian who stopped the train to demand (loudly in his own language) the release of a bedraggled French prisoner as a ruse to set up the ambush. With our commander shouting orders in French, and the woods quickly filling up with pungent white smoke, we roared out with each shot, "Vive le Roi!"

In addition to learning a lot more about events of the era, the actual locations where they took place, and the realities of the mid-18th century world, I learned hand sewing and leather work (got the holes in my hand to prove it). I sold my reproduction 1734 Tulle Armory musket (it was copied after the only one left in existence), but I still have the hickory-handled tomahawk, in case His Grace King Louis should need me again.


  1. I was wondering about the musket picture? It is better to play WAR than be in one. Which one are you? I hope its not one of the ones on the ground. But in your battle they get up and have an ale and a laugh.

  2. Why hasn't Cliff brought you down to explore Williamsburg?

  3. All the pictures with me in them have been replaced on the group's website with new ones. We were on the ground a lot -- the Brits usually outnumbered us 3 to 1 and their Iroquois allies were unusually good at outflanking us. I wish I had the picture of my "camp" at Old Bedford Village -- had all my best gear on display and it not only looked good, it looked completely like 1756!
    We were invited (as PA State Rgt or colonial militia)to Wmsbg every year, and were even paid! Once when we were on patrol down the main street, a female member of the group portrayed a colonial shoplifter (hysterically well), whom we chased and arrested. The tourists just gaped and thought it was real. As a guard at the Governor's Palace, I arrested a tourist as a suspected British spy, greatly delighting his companions as he was marched to the guardhouse. Good times, good times.