Last weekend, I went to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival to buy a handmade belt from a friend.
I was fourteen the first time I’d seen the fair, and it was night time. I’d arrived during late summer within a pack of high-school kids trucked out to build and paint on various stages. The second time I saw the fair was the next morning. I’d spent the night in a sleeping bag on hay bales, in a now long-gone building called, if I remember right, Bruegel Cottage. It stood next to the equally long-time gone Bad Manor, THE Bad Manor, where now stands the feast hall.
The photos in this article are from a series I took of All The Way Inn, wherein housed the Blue Lion Tavern. Also a building long demolished.
That foggy morning so long ago, smelling of damp hay, nickering horses, and freshly cut timber, grabbed me and never let go. I worked the fair every year after that and through my mid-thirties. In my child- to young adulthood where I’d been moved around a bit, the fair became my neighborhood, the place I grew up. My ‘stomping ground’.
My career at the fair slacked off in the late ’80s as the atmosphere changed with ownership rollover. As the stalwart guardians of custom, costume and crafts began to leave their posts, and those taking over cared just a little less about maintaining a participant environment devoid of modern age reminders. Since 1990, I’ve been back about a dozen times; working jobs or just pal’ing around with friends. Absence between each visit has, of course, highlighted the changes between. This year was no different. The approach and massiveness of the quarry astounds me.
I drove through the dusty pit, navigating my car around axle-denting dips and bumps, and parked near the new Queen’s Gate. I walked with the small clusters of people, but slower. I entered the clearing before the gate where I had, in a previous era, listened to friends sing songs and shoot the bull around their campfires. Inside the gate, I wandered down the centers of the lanes and recognized trees that were once saplings, and grand stumps where there had been mighty trees. Formerly open spaces were transformed with fast growing willows, appearing to have come from nowhere in no time.
Standing in the bare spot once occupied by All the Way Inn and the Blue Lion Tavern, I closed my eyes and listened to the crowd as if I were back on the balcony of the second-floor, where I roomed as a stage manager. Back almost 30 years, me in my burgundy dress, standing next to my boyfriend in his parti-colored tights and black shirt. We’d met that year in a staged combat troupe, fighting against one another in a chess match on Crown Stage. It was a thrilling time. I had to open my eyes and move, lest I sit right there on the dirt in an attempt of time travel.
From there, I toured the rest of the grounds in a mode of gentle reminiscence and it was good. I caught up with old friends and met a few new ones. I visited special places memorialized by friends passed and said small prayers into the warm breezes. I thanked the ground itself for being there and being so magical. By the end of the afternoon, with tired feet and a full heart, I was ready to go home.
I drove away feeling blessed, and blissfully fulfilled by this unintended pilgrimage.