Friday, April 29, 2016

Reflection: Visiting Fort Frederick's 22nd Annual Market Fair

Last weekend, Jamie and I had the privilege of traveling from Morgantown to Fort Frederick (near Big Pool, MD) with our friends Dan and Lori. The entire day was filled with memories to savor, and new ones to be made. There's something heart-warming about taking a road trip with friends in the first place, but this was the first extended period of time we had together for a long time. Dan and I grew up together, and so the drive was a mix of laughter over old memories and adventures, and in depth discussions about what is happening in our lives right now. An automobile, with no screens and no music is a great place for these types of discussions, but walking together in a park is even better, and that is EXACTLY what we did upon arrival at Fort Frederick.

Fort Frederick State Park has hosted Market Fair for 22 years, and I have probably attended about half of those years. My old chief used to love going to the event because the focus of the weekend was the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) era frontier. The event is a large rendez-vous and historic reenactment weekend with individuals donning the attire of British troops, militia, settlers, and some First Nations peoples wearing traditional regalia. Back in the 90s, going with my chief was like going with a celebrity. Everybody seemed to know him, and enjoyed having him stop by their weekend lodging. Hundreds of canvas tents scattered around the stone fort and these become the homes of participants for four or five days during the event.

Many of these participants are also artisans who specialize in various primitive skills. Every year when I go, I love seeing a variety of incredibly talented gunsmiths, knife smiths, blacksmiths, tailors, tanners, tobacconists, potters, silversmiths, and more. Some of the participants have spent weeks and months making absolutely beautiful quill work designs (they even dye the porcupine quills using traditional dyes). Still others make large belts of wampum, weaving the beads by hand.

In the early years of Market Fair, I remember my chief was brought in as a consultant for a group of Native American re-enactors who were interested in constructing a traditional eastern woodlands village. The photo above was taken at the edge of the woods where this village once stood--I participated in a wedding out on that. A number of native people from the region, including a strong contingent from our Native student group at WVU, would make the annual trek for Market Fair to trade, to find traditional wares, and to connect with other folks from various tribes as well as with other people who simply had a deep appreciation for history and simple living. For many years, this event served as an unofficial and unplanned reunion for many of us. We spent many evenings around the campfire swapping stories and drumming and singing very, very old songs and sometimes writing new ones.

This year was probably the busiest Market Fair I can remember. There were multiple overflow parking areas when we arrived at 1130AM. There's something to be said for perseverance, tradition, and time. This event has grown huge over the years. And, like every other time I have traveled to it, there was an unofficial and unplanned reunion. This year, it was with one of my former roommate's parents, Mark and Debbie Culp. Of course we had to take a group photo and send it off to their son Nic. We were able to enjoy a meal together, and I was able to introduce them to Dan and Lori as well as give them an update on the latest happenings with Nuru. Nic's parents have a love for wilderness, for traditional skills, and for history, but it was their first time visiting Market Fair--they LOVED it!

I highly recommend stopping by Market Fair if you find yourself near western Maryland in late April. The event itself has a longstanding tradition, and you never know who you might run into there. There's something really beautiful about meeting and connecting with individuals who are keeping old ways alive, and who are incredibly dedicated to their craft. There's also refreshment to be found by taking a step away from screens and devices for a few hours to breathe in the fresh air, and to engaging in the quickly fading art of conversation. May you find time and space in this hurried world to slow down and enjoy people and the beauty of the outdoors.

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