Last weekend was the grand occasion of the annual celebration of the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon. This is the biggest event in the Lafayette social calendar and has been much touted and much anticipated by all. There was a “dry run” a couple of weeks ago, and Peter and I went along to get a small taste of what we might expect on the actual day. We were enthused by what we saw and pre-purchased tickets to make sure we would not miss out on what promised to be a most exciting event. It turned out that “dry run” was a significant descriptor of the earlier event, as the actual days of the Feast were deluged by drenching rain.
The “live doppler 18” weather report indicated that the heavy rain on Saturday morning was only going to get heavier as the day progressed and develop into floods by Sunday, so Peter and I had a quick breakfast and decided we would get out there early, and see and eat what we could while we could. We were grateful for all those years of training we had received in the rainforests of Innisfail, and were pleased to see that hundreds of other hardy souls were not about to let a little weather dampen their spirits. We took a shuttle bus out to the site – which we discovered was a good move as some of the cars parked in the surrounding paddocks were already disappearing into the quagmire. The bus driver cheerily told us that the rain wouldn’t be a problem and in fact was probably a blessing as the queues at all the various food stalls were likely to be shorter as a result. Sounded good to me.
Let me set try to set the scene for you. Hundreds of tents and stalls covered the site. A group of tepees with wispy tendrils of smoke emerging from their apex provided an interesting contrast to the neat rows of military tents. Traders’ camps were set up behind their canoes and were adorned with a vast array of goods including furs, weapons, trinkets, clothing, and assorted paraphernalia. All the vendors and participants and a fair proportion of visitors were dressed in authentic period costumes.
The Feast is not just a themed event but is a re-enactment of the historical period. We came to appreciate the level of detail and authenticity as we continued to wend (or is that wade) our way among the stalls and camp areas. Life was as close as possible to what it would have been in the middle of the 18th century. I think that the mud and the slush actually added to the picture as you could get an even better understanding of what life must have been like before all the modern conveniences that shield and separate us from the environment and its effects (both good and bad). You can see how much I was caught up in the spirit of the event. I was even able to wax lyrical about the advantage of the foul weather which by now was causing the river to break its banks. Some less intrepid (or more prudent) campers were packing their gear and moving to higher ground.
All the participants camp out for the weekend, and probably for a couple of days either side of event. Their tents and equipment are also faithful reproductions, although I must confess that more than once, the smell of wood fires was overridden with the smell of fire-lighter fluid. The Feast takes place just outside town at Fort Ouiatenon (pronounced we-at-uh-non), which was established in 1717. The original trading post was frequented by Wea natives, French traders, and the military, and last weekend, it was possible to meet and greet representatives from all these groups. Traders and artisans were selling their wares, military re-enactors were parading and giving cannon-firing demonstrations, and Native Americans were sharing their culture.
The Native Americans were not re-enactors, but actual members of local tribal groups. They invited us to join them in their singing and dancing.
But whether you were dressed up or not, the main attraction of the day was the food. I started by sampling some buffalo stew. This was being brewed in huge cauldrons over an open fire (augmented by lighter fluid as necessary), and was deliciously warming. I followed that with spiced hot cider, frybread, and parched corn. During the four or five hour period were we there, we also managed to try apple dumplings, Forfar Bridies (the nearest thing to a hot pie I’ve had since coming here), shortbread, sassafras rock candy, and hickory fried turkey legs. There were probably other things, but I don’t want to sound like a pig!
Back to the costumes. In between feasting, we managed to visit a number of craft stalls, many of them whose sole business appeared to be making and selling clothes for the re-enactors. People were enquiring about appropriate wet weather gear – apparently clogs are the footwear of choice on such occasions. I guess the Dutch have some clues about soggy terrain. Certainly those poor souls wearing moccasins were not faring well. Another lady was searching for a white bonnet to complete her ensemble, and another asked about the appropriateness of wearing a particular jacket for “going out”. If the vendor had told her it was a house jacket, he’d have lost the sale for sure. The fabrics were all pure cotton, and prints and weaves were authentic. Dozens of books detailing everything from the right sorts of hosiery and underwear to buttons and jewellery were available for the enthusiast to peruse and, of course, purchase. My favourite seamstress was one who specialised in corsetry and showed me how she made the rather fearsome looking stays that were quite popular with many of the ladies. She assured me that despite the several tons of metal straps that were stitched into the garment, it was extremely comfortable to wear. It certainly had the powerful effect of pushing everything up and out. Peter remarked that it appeared to be quite a useful garment as it provided its wearer with a little table that they could probably even balance a meal on. We didn’t actually see anyone doing that, but you didn’t have to ask why her motto was “Cleavage Rules”.
I managed to drag Peter away from that stall to see some of the other basketmakers, brushmakers, woodworkers, blacksmiths, oarmakers, furriers, tinkers – you name it, it was there. By early afternoon, the rain had actually eased off (contrary to the forecast), but the mud made some pathways impassable, and the river was continuing to rise. We decided it was time to head for home. We were cold and wet, covered in mud, but thoroughly well fed and totally satisfied by our trip back to the 1700s. Peter has promised me that if we stay, next year he will wear full costume. I have a little fox-fur number in mind for him that should be quite stunning.
Next weekend, we are off to Bruno’s dinner. More details to follow.
By the way, thanks to Robert for telling me that Gene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon. This week’s question is:
Guess who turned 61 on Sunday 14th October?
It wasn’t mum, she turned something around about that today. Happy birthday mum.