A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went on our annual trip (annual when we can afford it, that is; we’ve missed the past two) to Gulf Wars, a week-long SCA event just south of Hattiesburg, MS.
I had every intention of taking lots of pictures and some video, but between taking classes, teaching classes, and getting a cold partway through the week, I took almost none. (We were not with it this War. It’s like, after missing two years in a row, we forgot what we were doing. We waited until the absolute last minute to pack and did a half-assed job with stuff we normally take more seriously.)
But, we did manage to get a few pictures (and I’ll add in some old ones, so you can see a little more).
So, to start with, here is our home away from home. We’re still in the process of setting up, so there’s no furniture in it yet, but when it’s fully set up, we have a full-size bed (with a real mattress), a clothes rack, pantry shelves, and a dressing table and stool. Oh, and we also use a propane heater when it’s cold (we only used it the first night to burn off the damp; the rest of the week it was plenty warm–even hot, during the day).
While setting up, Stuart managed to pull an entire water spigot out of the ground. Hitting water lines/sprinkler systems with tent stakes, backing over spigots, etc. is so common in the SCA, we jokingly refer to these incidents as finding a “miraculous spring.” Stuart might have a first for ripping up a spigot with his bare hands, though.
Some folks down the road built a shrine to their miraculous spring (although it wasn’t out this year; I guess they couldn’t make it to War).
While almost everyone camps in tents, a few enterprising people have built themselves houses (this is next on mine and Stuart’s to-do list).
(Not being the carpenter/constructor types, we plan on buying a pre-built storage building and altering it to appear medieval.)
Some encampments have fancy gates.
There are even a couple of large, public buildings on site:
We eventually want to put a gate up on our land, but our house will probably end up happening first. (Again, no carpentry skills–not to mention, it’s an 8+ hour drive for everyone in our camp, which means we can’t just run down there for a work weekend and throw up a gate.)
But, that being said, we did have one work weekend year-before-last, when we built ourselves a fire pit.
So, now that you’ve seen how we live, let me show you what we do.
But, it’s not all fighting. There are massive amounts of classes, Arts & Sciences displays and workshops, dancing, parties, fencing, hound coursing, and equestrian (to name a few things).
There is also archery and thrown weapons. Stuart bought a new longbow at War and went to the archery range to try it out.
I had assumed that people hunted with birds for food–that the birds would get you a rabbit for your dinner. But, in reality, you end up feeding them pretty much everything they catch, and then some (they don’t hunt with them at certain times of the year). The owners actually raise pigeons to feed the birds when they’re not hunting with them (pigeons and doves were commonly raised in the middle ages, too, and no doubt some of them went to the birds). If they catch anything big, like a rabbit, then that gets put into the freezer to be fed to them a piece at a time.
The purpose of hawking in the middle ages, then, wasn’t to use birds to catch yourself dinner, but just to watch them hunt and kill something. Part of the reason why only nobles could have birds (besides sumptuary laws, which strictly relegated who could own what kind of bird) was that they were expensive to maintain. Not only did you have to feed it when it couldn’t feed itself, but you pretty well had to have a full-time falconer to take care of your birds.
And these birds are not really tame–not like your cat or dog or even a domesticated bird. One of the falconers explained that they kept bells on the birds’ feet so that they could hear them if they flew away. She said that at a previous War, one man let his loose and the bird never came back. And she said she had one to get away from her when she was hunting with it. It got a squirrel and then decided that it needed to hide and eat, so he flew off into the brush. She was only able to track him down by listening to his bells when he moved his feet.
The only reason why any of them stay with their human handlers is because they know they can always get a free and easy meal. I seem to recall, from a conversation I had with one of the falconers several years ago, that they were only allowed to keep some of the endangered ones for a few years, while they were juveniles (because juveniles have a high rate of mortality in the wild). After that, they had to release them. And, in fact, barring age or injury, any of these birds could go back to the wild at any time–unlike truly domesticated animals.
I asked the falconer one year how they managed to gentle the birds, and he said that after wild-catching one, he would sit in a recliner in his basement, take the bird out of its box, and hold it until it quit beating its wings (while watching TV–because it could take a while). When it had tired itself out and calmed down, then he would feed it. After that, he would feed it and handle it regularly and it would quickly come to associate people with food, so it wouldn’t fight when it was taken out of its box. When it was pretty well-behaved, they could leave it out on a perch in the house, where it would spend additional time around other people and around the other birds. (The smaller birds are naturally afraid of the larger ones, but after a while, when they figure out that the large ones can’t get to them, they calm down around them.)
Unfortunately, after we got home from War, we found out that the people who owned all the birds, save the male hawk, had a car fire on their way back home. They managed to get out of the car in time, but all of their birds died. A couple of different groups of people are working on raising money to help them replace their birds. (They are licensed to wild-catch some species, but some of the ones pictured are not native to their part of the U.S. and have to be bought or traded for.)