Jed Fest - The Beginning


By Vincent C. Spiotti


The fire flared up as Jedediah poked at the burning wood and bed of hot glowing coals. Our copper pot was nearly boiling and soon we would be enjoying a cup of hot steaming coffee. It would be a welcomed delight as the snow continued to fall in thick wet flakes, already having covered our snowshoe tracks from the past hour when we pulled into the thicket to set up our shooting camp. Cold and snowy it was but we were protected from the cold north wind and blowing fresh snow. It would be another enjoyable afternoon in the forest, huddled in a pine stand, drinking fresh hot coffee, shooting our fusils, discussing each and every seemingly unrelated topic as they spuriously pop into our minds. Another day of 18th century seclusion in the snow covered of mountains of New Hampshire enjoyed by two friends.

Sitting on a piece of wood close to the fire Jed sipped at his coffee while I was wrestling with my Snapsack, digging for a piece of chocolate that slipped deep inside. “I’ve been thinking about the wedding this fall” Jedediah said, as he caught my eye as I whirled around toward the fire, chocolate booty in hand. “I was planning on you being my best man at the wedding if you weren’t too busy” Jed casually mentioned, now fully in possession of my attention. “I guess I could work it into my schedule I chirped” as I bit down on my chocolate. “You bastard” Jed mumbled as he threw a handful of snow at me on the other side of the fire.

Jedediah and his soon to be Good Wife Ann were recently engaged after an 18 month courtship. Their wedding was planned for the coming October, some 10 months away from our current day together. Jed and Ann were a perfect match. From the first day I saw them together, I knew that there would never be a moment that would be apart.

“One thing” Jed went on as I wiped off my fresh coating of snow from my face, “I’d like for us to have a scout as my bachelor party the weekend before the wedding”. I thought for a second. “I don’t know” I said slowly in a somewhat questioning manner, “I’m not sure I can get the dancing girls out on to the trail”. “No girls, no movies, just a scout with the guys will do nicely” Jed declared. It didn’t take long for me to buy into his plan.  “You’re On” I declared as I excitedly stood up and claimed “JED FEST” I yelled upwards into the falling snow, “a weekend to celebrate the end of your life”. “Yea, something like that” Jed said as he poured each of us one more coffee and we continued to banter and joke in the snow by the fire about the upcoming fall.

The reenacting group we belong to, Harmon’s Snowshoemen took the news of Jed Fest with great excitement. The original Harmon’s Snowshoe Company was comprised of men from the then frontiers of Maine in the early part of the 18th century. Fiercely loyal to the Governor and as interested in scalp bounty as mission, this group of veteran provincial soldiers was a battle hardened group of tough frontier men.

The recreated Harmon’s has a somewhat similar approach and reputation. Harmon’s today is a group  know for being a hard fighting and even harder living group while at events. Known for always carrying everything on their backs at all times at events and while on scouts, most men sleep in simple shelters and enjoy minimal accoutrements. Overtly bonded to each other, somewhat standoffish to others, and always ready for a fight, they are always willing to run the extra mile and climb a bigger hill to get the better of a situation as part of any situation or scenario.

Time spent together within the inner circle of Harmon’s is always geared towards the lambasting of each other, generally on a rotating basis. No trip, slip or accident goes unnoticed, and generally is always brought up at the most embarrassing moment. Thick skin, a sense of humor and the willingness to leave any given gathering with a new nickname are musts if you are to hang with this group of frontier types.

The reenacting spring and summer reenacting season was full of conversation and excitement about the event. With each gathering of the men from Harmon’s, eventually the conversation around the fires and during lulls in battles turned to the topic of Jed Fest. Plenty of this time was focused on various threats and taunts about what rituals and ceremonies Jed would need to endure as part of his weekend. While it was all in the spirit of Harmon’s, a measured dose of fear regarding the discussions about the specifics of the weekend was certainly acceptable. Of course, knowing Jed, he would not forget the attention and would someday perhaps exact his revenge.

Brilliant fall foliage and seasonable cool temperatures greeted us in late September as we gathered on the shoulder of Mt Garfield in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for the big event. The weekend that we have discussed and joked about all summer was upon us. Jed Fest was here.

A Pine Tree Flag was raised near a fiery red and orange maple tree at the trailhead. A short walk from here led to a secluded field of flowering purple and white mountain asters. This was to be the site where we would set up the camp. Quickly and without need for direction, as the men arrived in camp over the afternoon, they hailed each other with the normal blend of enthusiastic and sarcastic greetings, paying special attention to Jed, the guest of honor with an extra back slap and verbal ribbing.  

Eventually everyone shed their packs and arms, hung their traps, and went to work setting up their shelters of choice. Knowing that a chance of a storm was in the forecast for the first night, all decided to erect some sort of shelter. Some chose a diamond shelter, others a simple tarp. A few even went as far as to set up somewhat primitive wedge tents that they lugged up the trail into the camp.

As darkness was coming over the horizon, a fire was started and the men each began to cook and enjoy various cuts of roasted meats, vegetables and other delights. Hot beverages were warmed and shared by the fire light.  Healthy supplies of various beverages, painstakingly hauled into camp, were enjoyed by the campfire. The smell of wood smoke and tobacco was ever present. The clink of cups and mugs along with the rowdy and bawdy jokes and stories could be heard from in and out of the darkness that surrounded the light of the roaring fire. Jed’s final weekend as a bachelor had begun.

The wind picked up during late in the evening as a storm from the north blew in fast and furious long after all turned in for the night. Everyone awoke from their sound slumber to arrange and rearrange their various shelters and windbreaks. As the wind picked up steadily, it now sounded more like the rumblings of a freight train passed in and around the peaks and valleys of the White Mountains. The roar of the wind, now complete with a soaking rain, drowned out the cries of men who suffered in their failing shelters.

Many of the low lying shelters collapsed under the wind and now driving rain, forcing the occupants to roll up in the materials or dive quickly into another shelter for protection. Rick and Crowe were scrambling quickly, crying into the night for the storm to stop but to no avail. Steve, one of the founding father of Harmon’s and our currently unanimously elected leader, continued to snore on in his slowly collapsing and quickly dampening shelter.

Jed and I, along with Adam and the ever reluctant and cowering Dogediah, were safe and dry in our A-tent. The extra effort and heavy load to carry to bring the larger canvas tent to the site was now well worth it as we stayed dry and sheltered from the wind. True to form for the men of Harmon’s, we didn’t miss an opportunity to shout insults, heckle and offer comical unhelpful advice to those of our pards who were in peril in the powerful and fast moving storm. We lay snickering and amused, warm in our blankets in our seemingly impregnable canvas fortress.

After an evening of libations and despite the raging storms fury, Jed announced that he had to relieve his full bladder. Suggestions and instructions regarding how to stay in the tent and use his canteen or perhaps his hat as a chamber pot and were ignored. Jed decided he would venture out into the elements for his call of nature. Fearing a burst of wind would enter the tent and cause havoc, the last words exchanged as he collected himself for his business were regarding not leaving the canvas flap untied. Fully prepared, Jed ventured out into the stormy night, a night that was about to become more memorable for the occupants of our presently comfortable abode.

I have never been able to prove it but have always had reason to suspect it. I have even tried to get Jed to admit it with the purposeful application of beer and whiskey, but to no avail. However, my current theory still believes that Jed’s actions on that fateful night were of a deliberate and malicious nature. Perhaps this was Jed’s retribution for all the verbal jest and matrimonially jokes that he had to suffer over the past summer. Regardless of intent or reason, and with the pursuit of fact never truly accomplished, all that can be said is that for whatever reason known only to Jed, he left the door open as he exited the tent.

As Adam and I lay in our blankets, Dogediah entwined snuggly around my feet, we felt a bit of breeze on our faces. Just as I shouted “Jed, remember the door” there was a great gust of wind, and it was over. Adam and I now lay together, naked in the wind, rain pelting us on the faces, leaves and twigs blowing over our wool nests. Just like that, the tent was gone, blown off yards way into the field of aster. Dogediah groaned from the elements and quickly nestled deeper into my blankets, letting out a great sigh as he resettled.

The men from Harmon’s now all lay safe and secure in their adjusted somewhat damp nests, in perfect position to watch the comical scene that was about to unfold. There was no help offered that stormy night by our pards, only insults, unsolicited comments and plain harassment. Three men struggling in the dark and a windy and wet night, chasing a tent across a field, trying to recover the lost canvas domicile that blew away in the wind as Dogediah lay comfortable in our blankets, keeping them warm for our arrival.

The only sound that was heard above the storm was the rumble of laughter from the group as we comically scrambled and struggled in the dark to erect some sort of shelter above our quickly dampening bedrolls.

The morning arrived with a low reaching ray of light from the sun as it broke through the quickly parting clouds to the east. Marko, one of our most animated members, was already awake, poking at the newly kindled fire, floppy hat covering his face. He cocked his head up at us as we climbed from our sagging tent, “You boys sleep OK last night?” Marko snickered as a steady stream of laughter and giggles slowly bubbled from the other shelters. Adam jumped from the tent and ripped into a blow by blow description of the evening, complete with an impromptu reenactment of his motions and our struggles in the night. Steve, one of the founding fathers of Harmon’s and our still unanimously elected fearless leader, only fueled Adam’s pantomime. “Tell us about that tent again” Steve dryly asked Adam, immediately resetting Adam to repeat the story from the beginning to end to everyone’s enjoyment.

I silently walked the ground around the tent in the noticeably cooler air, looking for several lost tent pegs in the flowers. Jed just stood silent by the fire, Dogediah by his side, staring at the ever growing flames, mumbling about an uncomfortable night and inquiring about the coffee. Despite the storm’s full fury, we all made it through the night.

With the storm clearly gone, the sun rising and breaking even further through the clearing clouds, the day was quickly looking like it was going to be nice. Coffee never tastes better when cooked over an open fire from a copper boiler. As we all sat and enjoyed our morning beverage, sifting grounds through our teeth, the conversation swirled around the events of last evening, eventually moving forward towards the adventures that lay before us.

 The fire began to die off as Silas innocently asked “So, are we going stay in camp all day and listen to the sad stories of your evening or are we going to head out and do a scout?”  After a bit of chiding back at Silas about how maybe he should be in command, as our insults died off, we all slowly realize he was right. It was time to step off and head out for our scout.

There is a perfectly normal and healthy “show and tell” that goes on when several reenactors start donning their prized reenacting possessions. Hand made, hand sewn and highly priced shooting bags, powder horns, packs, canteens and muskets are all fondled and fiddled with as they are positioned into place. Like most reenactors, we all love the personal items that we carry as 18th century Snowshoemen. They are both a source of pride but also group and individual identity.

No snowshoes were needed for this adventure. Eventually we were all outfitted in fall kit and ready for a daylong patrol. It was time to step off into the 18th century and jump onto the foliage color engulfed trail for our daylong scout of the hardwood forests of New England.

 

To be continued……..


VCS