Blog: SCA

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Free to good home: Pennsic house or parts thereof

Please share a link to this post with any SCA (etc) or tiny-homes people you think might be interested.

I have a house on a flatbed trailer. It lives at Cooper's Lake in western PA, where Pennsic is held. When I set out to build it, I first got Dave Cooper's approval of the plans so there would be no issues with using and storing it there. All was good. But times have changed, there are new people with new business interests running Cooper's Lake now, and many of the "old" trailers, including mine, have been evicted. In my case, my trailer has to be gone after Pennsic 50, this August.

The trailer is not road-legal; it's only been driven on Cooper roads for the last 20 years. Legality aside, I doubt the trailer would be safe at real road speeds. (The campground has bumpy dirt roads and traffic moves at 5-10MPH.) It's not practical for me to disassemble the house and rebuild a smaller version of it to take to and from Pennsic every year: I don't have the storage, the towing vehicle, or the fortitude. I don't think I'll go to enough more Pennsics to justify all those costs.

Perhaps you have those things, and interest? Or perhaps there are parts you can use?

Parts of the house are in good to very good condition and could perhaps be reused for a different building project. The roof was new in 2019, put on a month before I got the eviction notice (sob). It's made of ABS pipe, cut to look like tiles, and it does a good job of both protecting and cooling the house. I can talk more about its construction. The loft floor is made of 2x4 tongue-and-groove whitewood and, being interior, has not been exposed to the elements. The doors are in good shape (you probably want to refinish them). Some other lumber can probably be reused for the right project.

I would be sad to trash all this if there's someone who can make use of it and who can come collect it in August. I'm not looking for money; I want to reduce waste.

If you're interested, please get in touch -- click through to the Dreamwidth post for some contact options or use the "contact" link on this site or use any other path you know to reach me.

A few pictures: Read more…

SCA evolution: from re-creation to SIG?

I was at an event this weekend, my first since Pennsic. Pennsic, in turn, was my first event since before the pandemic. I think this infrequency of exposure has made me really notice some things that have been gradually changing for decades. Herewith a long ramble that could definitely use more thought (and probably editing), but this is where I am now. Read more…

Skies over Pennsic

This isn't the Pennsic entry; this is the "you can see nice things when there isn't city build-up in your way" photo post. :-) Mostly sunsets, interesting clouds, and the full moon. Read more…

Pennsic trailer check-in

This weekend is the Cooper-designated weekend for people who want access to trailers stored there to go in and do any needed work. (There was a second, but it was Shavuot so that didn't help me.) It's been three years since Pennsic was held and thus three years since my house-on-a-trailer has been moved or used. I dreaded what I might find. I wouldn't have been surprised by "sunk into the ground up to its axles and, after digging it out, it needs new tires". I wouldn't have been surprised by exterior damage from other trailers or vehicles hitting it (which has happened before). I was expecting an exterior covered waist-high in mold or algae or whatever lives in those fields, which has happened before.

The two of us and two trailer-savvy people from our camp went up this afternoon, to do what we could and scout what would be needed for a return trip on Sunday. Miracle of miracles: it was fine. The Coopers have mowed the grass in the storage area, the tires are fine (a little low but can be driven; we can top off at Pennsic), the bucket we left inverted over the hitch was still there (so the hitch is fine, no rust), and it was more sound than it has been some years after only one year of sitting.

Whew. I was afraid I was going to have to invest more when we're under an eviction notice already (so I am not interested in long-term fixes at this point, only stopgaps). The one repair I knew I'd need will be fine (and not hard), and everything else looks fine. Pennsic accommodations this year should be sound.

Ice Dragon pentathlon

There is (in non-pandemic times) a major event in my kingdom (AEthelmearc), Ice Dragon. A feature of this event is the arts & sciences pentathlon, which used to be the premier A&S competition in the region. It was the premier A&S competition in the East Kingdom before AEthelmearc split off into its own kingdom.

The competition is divided into several major categories, like clothing and cooking and performance. Each major category has sub-categories like pre-1400 women's clothing and bread and storytelling. You can enter things in individual categories, and if you enter at least five different major categories, you can compete for the overall pentathlon prize. An important feature of the competition, in my opinion, is the cross-entry: if an item qualifies for more than one category, you didn't have to choose only one. Embroidered gown? Clothing and needlework. Belt woven from wool you spun, with a buckle you made? Spinning, weaving, and metalwork. And so on.

I haven't been tracking the event lately (I stopped traveling for SCA events even before the pandemic, due to both changing interests and the inherent Shabbat complications). I was reminded of the event by a post I saw tonight on the kingdom blog, which referred in passing to the limit of two categories for cross-entries. I'm not sure when that was introduced, but it was not always there.

With that rule change one small but fun challenge went away: the single-item pent entry. Can you come up with one work that legitimately fits five major categories? I did this one year and had great fun trying it, and learning some new crafts in the process (which should be one of the goals, encouraging growth). I'm disappointed to learn that this small bit of the event's history is no longer accessible.

It was a book. A book of music that I composed, illuminated (like books of hours), with an embroidered cover. I performed one of the pieces. The book was a gift for my then-baroness (of blessed memory); she had appointed me as her bard and I made the book to honor and thank her. But I embroidered the cover because of the Ice Dragon pent. And I might well have bought a blank bound book, focusing on the music and the illumination (my actual skills), but for the pent.

And I'm glad I did make the book. I learned about bookbinding. I asked a curator nicely and got a private tour of a collection of actual renaissance volumes so that I could inspect their bindings (which are usually not very visible when books are displayed open behind glass). My embroidery was not very good but was full of spirit, as they say.

The single-item pent entry is not the optimal path to winning the pent (if winning the pent is your goal). You can probably make five stronger entries by focusing and avoiding the constraints of other parts of the project. I did not win the pent the year I entered the book. But I had loads of fun with the project (and apparently made an impression). And my baroness really liked the book. So, win all around.

The last original Cooper is gone

Betty Cooper, who with her husband Mack founded Cooper's Lake Campground and worked with the SCA to build Pennsic, has died at 96. Betty, Mack, and their son Dave were true friends of the SCA, dealing honorably and fairly and with a smile. They seemed to enjoy the SCA's wacky brand of unusual fun. We lost Dave a few years ago and Mack a few years before that, and now we have lost the last Cooper with that long history.

Cooper's Lake is a different place in recent years -- more corporate, less human. Nothing lasts forever and this is to be expected; heirs and successors who never saw their customers as anything other than another convention need to pay the bills. But I feel like we've lost not just another good person, not just a piece of SCA history, but also some of the values that made Pennsic what it once was -- a place of honor and friendship and camaraderie and experimentation and innovation.


Friday morning the Pennsic staff announced that Pennsic 49, postponed from last year, would be postponed again to next year. This did not surprise me; I figured a 50-50 chance this year was optimistic, given the uncertainties involved. Our camp had already been discussing the possibility of holding "Little Pennsic"; one person has enough land for our 25 or so vaccinated people to camp for a week.

A few hours later, Cooper's Lake Campground announced that they would be holding "Armistice" during the Pennsic timeslot, and that they need this event to succeed or they might not be around in 2022. As a business that relies on events -- except for this year, they no longer host plain old camping, only large events -- they are certainly hurting, but there was something about the language that felt off-putting to me. (More on that in a few paragraphs.)

The event announcement has the basic information: not an SCA event but designed to resemble Pennsic in most ways. No battles, but groups can "check out" list fields or archery ranges for their own use (and presumably at their own liability). Tents will be available for classes. Merchants are welcome. There will be some semblance of "land grab" for camping spots. You can register now (prices are higher than Pennsic). But they don't yet say anything about pandemic-related restrictions, like whether vaccines will be required and whether, even with vaccines, masks will be required. They'll follow state guidelines but, in April, nobody knows what those will be in July/August. That makes it hard for people to commit.

Pennsic has, over the last several years, felt more and more like a Cooper's Lake event and less and less like one controlled by the SCA, so in a way this is a natural step in the evolution of the event. For most events, the SCA rents space and is responsible for running the event; with Pennsic, Cooper's Lake has much more control, particularly over the financial aspects of the event. It's kind of a weird hybrid.

Pennsic has been at Cooper's Lake for about 45 years. The original Coopers (and Wilvers), who were friends of the SCA and shared its values, are gone. A new generation is running the campground now. They don't have that history and they don't share those values, so it's not surprising that they run things differently. The old Coopers could have said "hey folks, we're in trouble" and help would have flooded in from their friends in the SCA. The new Coopers have not maintained that close relationship, focusing on the business over the people (sometimes at the expense of the people), so it's hard to predict what will happen now. I think this is why I react to their plea the way I do; they moved from personal relationships to a business model, which is a valid decision for them to make, but this is the kind of appeal one makes with personal relationships. It feels out of place, given the changes in direction.

I suspect that when (if) Pennsic returns in 2022, the SCA will own less of it than it did in 2019. Only time will tell what Pennsic will look like in a few more years.

In comments somebody asked whether it's feasible to move the event. I wrote: Read more…

Sad news from AEthelmearc

Master Remus Fletcher, who was an instigating force in music in the Debatable Lands and at events across the kingdom and beyond, died on Friday. The obituary talks some about his SCA participation, and there'll be an AEthelmearc Gazette post.

This is such sad news. Remus encouraged music and was sometimes a one-person source of ambience. During events, if there was no other entertainment happening, he would sit in a corner and play. He was happy to put instruments in curious people's hands and teach. Some of the people he drew in went on to surpass him musically, but I never got the sense that he felt threatened by that -- he just wanted there to be more music. Before there was a Debatable Consort, Remus showed up at fighting practice every week with packets of photocopied music and a bag of recorders and the Consort grew from that. He was part of the Debatable Choir during its early days, and sang individually at events frequently.

Remus was friendly and welcoming to all. He encouraged people he knew to reach higher, to stretch, but he didn't judge -- he invited, never criticized. I will miss him.

The fruitcake of the Laurels of AEthelmearc

Once upon a time, when the kingdom of AEthelmearc was young,1 a mixed multitude of peers and non-peers sat around a camp at Pennsic entertaining each other. And one of the Laurels did observe that the Chivalry have their ancestral chain of fealty, and the Pelicans their ancestral medallion, both of which are passed from inductee to inductee as new people are added to those orders, but the poor Laurels had no such tradition. And someone else did observe that the Laurels could create a new tradition, and in so doing also find a way to mitigate the impression of the order as "stuffy". And then a clever Laurel (who may choose to self-identify) suggested that, rather than a medallion or a wreath or some other such conventional item of reusable regalia, we should have...a fruitcake.

Think about it, this Laurel said! They had cakes containing fruit in the renaissance (Digby small cakes), which are tasty, but the canonical modern fruitcake2 is often a thing you give away, perhaps several times in sequence over a period of years, but never actually consume, it being rock-hard and coated in sugar to the point of seeming shellacked, and would you eat something containing those bright green cherries anyway? The Laurels could have an ancestral relic, one that would pass from member to member (perhaps like the matham of fandom -- a thing you receive and immediately seek to divest yourself of), in the form of an ancestral fruitcake.

The company present was delighted by this idea and promptly had another round of ale.

Time passed, and one of those present received a writ of summons for the Laurel, and another (who was not yet a member of this order) researched cakes of fruit in the renaissance and set out to produce the cake and its reliquary box besides. And this was introduced as the Ancestral Fruitcake of the Laurels and presented to the new inductee in court.

Others thought this was great fun, and that it did have the effect of making the Laurels seem less stuffy and more down-to-earth, and before long another candidate received a writ of summons and asked that the fruitcake be included in the ceremony. And others followed, and the fruitcake became part of AEthelmearc tradition. Along the way the fruitcake was actually shellacked to prevent unfortunate surprises, and a custom arose of new inductees adding some sort of token to the reliquary alongside the cake, over time accumulating quite the entourage to accompany the relic. That first fruitcake-receiving inductee wrote a poem that, for a time, was extended by a verse for each new member, though I do not recall how long that tradition continued. The fruitcake, cared for by so many Laurels over time, was said to have acquired mythic properties, though legends conflicted about the nature of these powers and whether they came from eating a small piece or not eating. The creator of the fruitcake was later inducted into the order and received the cake.

This ceremonial element is silly, which some inductees do not prefer, and other inductees create ceremonies specific to a particular time and place into which the ancestral fruitcake does not fit. It has always been up to each inductee to decide whether the fruitcake would appear in the ceremony -- most have, some have not. There is something entertaining about hearing the herald ask the assembly: "Is there a medallion? Is there a cloak? Is there a wreath? Is there a fruitcake?", especially when it is a newer herald who has not read the script in advance. But it is not for everyone, and the custodians of the fruitcake do not impose where the relic is not invited.

In recent times the ancestral fruitcake of the Laurels of AEthelmearc has come under attack and faces banishment from public view. And it is long past time for its story to be told, which I have endeavored to do from my own observation and memory, having been present for that initial discussion and at many of the ceremonies thereafter.

1 I think this happened in 2002.

2 In which category the delightful cakes made by my friend MinoanMiss do not fall, let me be clear.

A day of song and story (SCA)

Yesterday Earl Sir Byron and Countess Sir Ariella hosted an SCA event at their castle. The day was focused on song and story, with classes interspersed with performances. It was a fun, intimate event with about a hundred people, including visitors from outside our group.

I attended a class on commedia dell' arte -- practicum, not history, meaning it focused on techniques for getting on stage and doing improv. There were some "improv games" as part of the class. I am not a comfortable actor, which is why I took the class. I had fun and learned things. Our local commedia troupe also demonstrates that there are strong female roles available besides lover, love interest, and servant-girl; in the alternate reality where I have time and skill to consider auditioning for commedia, I'd be looking for something that fits me less badly -- at my age (and, frankly, body type), I'm not going to be convincing as a young lover.

I also attended a class on trumpets, which included "make sound 101" with mouthpieces and plenty of sanitizer. I had wondered where pitch comes from; is it like a kazoo, where you're responsible for producing the pitch and the instrument then shapes it, or what? No, nothing like that -- the vibration speed coming off your lips is what regulates pitch. Huh. I did manage to make sound come out of a trumpet by the end of the class, though I think I was the slowest learner in the room. (Yes I can get sound out of a shofar, though not reliably!)

The Debatable Choir concert went reasonably well, I thought, though the effect of some sick members was noticeable to us (don't know how noticeable it was to the audience). We had some "sunlight through the windows into the eyes" moments, a challenge when we haven't memorized everything. One nice thing about an event like this is that you get an appreciative audience and can do a longer concert, which was nice!

The food was excellent, and the cooks for both lunch and dinner took extra care to provide ingredient lists, avoid cross-contamination of ingredients, and account for all the dietary restrictions they knew about. I had a full meal despite not eating the meat and without having to bulk up on bread. Read more…