Over the past few days I’ve seen more and more of my SCA friends post and talk about getting ready to leave for Estrella War, and for the first time in a while, I’m kinda wishing I could go.
Estrella was my first big event in the SCA, a little over ten years ago. Until then, I had not done much outside of the weekly fighter practice. True, I had done some local events, like the Toys for Tots fundraiser, but that had been mostly as a bystander. I hadn’t fought in any tournaments, and my only melee experience was via small unit skirmishes in the horse barn where we held practice.
Nothing could have prepared me for my first war experience. Until then, I had considered a practice with 20 or more fighters a “large” one. But at Estrella, there were closer to 600 fighters. On each side. The sheer scale was overwhelming. There were times when the line of our shields stretched as far as I could see (in the admittedly dusty desert air) in either direction, to say nothing of the hordes of “enemies” massed across from us. There’s some indescribable feeling when you see a sight like that, an awareness of the like-minded fighters around you. It doesn’t make it any less intimidating, but it sublimates a not insignificant portion of your fear into exhilaration.
My first war was a magical experience, to say the least. Fighting all day (did you know there’s actually oxygen at lower altitudes?) gave way to a wonderful world of campfires and storytelling (and parties, but that’s never really been my thing) with the setting of the sun. I also learned several things. One: a mummy bag and thin Thermarest pad are not significant protection against the February desert cold when placed inside a large six-person dome tent. Two: taking along a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of Nutella (carbs, protein, and sugar!) as your only source of food will cause others to take pity on you and feed you whether you like it or not.
But like all things, these intense feelings couldn’t last. I’ve been to Estrella several more times and had fun, but the experience was just that: fun, not magical. This, combined with a growing undercurrent of discontent about how the hosts of the war treated their guests amongst my circle of friends, eventually leached most of the enthusiasm for war I had left. As such, it’s been several years since I’ve been back. Admittedly, my decision to go to grad school (and all the time and money constraints that entailed) had something to do with my decision, but it also seemed to be part of a larger malaise.
For the first time in a while, I’m feeling a distant cousin of that first war’s excitement. I’ve heard that a lot of past complaints about how things were run have been addressed. People I know and respect are getting excited, and that can’t help but be infectious. I’m still not going to make it this year, but on the eve of my first war ten years ago, I’m starting to wish I could.