Once again, the Texas Renaissance Festival comes to a close. 2008 was a sporadic year for me, since I was only able to attend four of the eight weekends, but those four were good ones. We also saw near perfect weather, with only the last weekend really acting like winter during the daylight hours.
The end of the season blues used to hit me harder in many ways, but now it seems like a quieter feeling more akin to nostalgia and waiting, far more patiently than ever before, for the next season.
On that last Sunday afternoon, I caught myself watching leaves blow across one of the main squares, a meeting of many pathways. Bagpipes and drums faded slightly, as the thought slipped in: “Where will I be, what will be different in my life, by the time I sit here again next year, listening to the pipes and watching leaves blow?”
In a crisp Autumn wind a question like that can seem melancholy, but the emotion that inspired it was hope mixed with a touch of wonderment.
I suppose a less poetic soul might slap the cliche “winds of change” on the whole scene and call it a day, but I prefer to be more reflective.
Perhaps for those who are new to the phenonemon of TRF, an explanation is in order? When I was young, sixteen to be precise, I was introduced to this six weekends long event. When it ended, I longed for it to start again, sometimes getting “fest miss” (a common ailment) as early as June. This cycle continued for the next twenty-two years…. Then the place itself, and its rules, started changing, and not for the better. Perhaps the people with children thought it was improved, but I did not. It got less and less like a renaissance fair and more and more modern and commercial. Now, having watched this decline for two years (and seeing no end to it) I find myself confiding in friends that I go mostly to see loved ones I can’t easily spend time with anywhere else.
Unfortunately, the only thing that may stop the eroding of the place could be its eventual demise. King George, like the rest of us, is getting older, and when he is gone, his heirs are not likely to keep it going. They do not love it like he does, and those who build the endless anthill subdivisions would love to take it all away from us. So the question becomes this: “Do I walk away before the slow stripping of spiritual flesh from bone? Or wait and tarry only to become an unwilling witness to it?” Typically, I have found a middle path; I withdraw in increments, going there less to soften the inevitable blow of its loss.
The grounds still have magic in a few tired corners, far from the bustle and shouts of children clutching items never once imagined in the historical ages that the signs and hawkers try to evoke. I can feel it in my hair when the wind blows, and in the dark after fireworks are smoke. I wonder, now and then, what will become of it when concrete, asphalt, and fences plow it all under, dreams, leaves, memories and all.
Will anything be left? The people will remain, most of them (we’ve already lost so many, God rest their souls). But while life goes on, it gets “in the way” of some of the quieter, simpler things. What it comes to is, without this great place of fading magic that calls to us, very few would ever find time to gather and share food, warmth, stories, and all that makes people into friends. And even if some do gather, it will likely diminish and fade without that one unifying focus. Perhaps a new place might be either found or created, just like King George made this one, out of a strip mine and a dream, over thirty years ago.
For now, it still stands, in spite of all the changes. The pine trees that line the parking rows are taller than most people’s dreams, though in my mind I recall when I could step over them to reach my car. And so many rich memories lurk in every shade, every beam of sunlight. The old Robin Hood stage I loved is gone, but the Carillon of Cast in Bronze helps me mourn its loss so poignantly, even as it stands in its place.
Next year I may withdraw more, willingly or no. Yes, I am busy, more than ever, and likely to be busier as time goes on. My fear is that someday the old toss away saying of, “See you next year” will be as lost under asphalt as the fair grounds themselves. When that time comes, the fair will be lost, forever, whether or not something new takes its place.
But I will still miss it, and all it will take is one curling note of a bagpipe to lead me off down the wind to that same place, chasing the leaves all the way – even if it is only in my mind.