Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to travel back in time

1. Consider the reasons for your pilgrimage. 

Some of the earliest games I remember playing involved going back in time. In first and second grade, I would arrange my dolls and myself into "Victorian" family photos. A little later, my friend Elissa and I undertook countless treks across the yard as 19th-century pioneers. In fifth grade, I tried to build a time machine to take me to the 1940s.

As a teenager and adult, I have loved history for its exotic ways and values, but most of all because in history I find so many alternatives to the hurried, harried, heretical ways many people live their lives in the twenty-first century. I know that no time in history is without fault, but I treasure history as the source of meaningful traditions -- that is, creatively sustained ways of thinking, loving, doing, eating, building, and living.

More recently, I have continued to study history for the sake of empathy. If can feel the life of a woman from 1384--however briefly--I am better prepared to understand and love my neighbor in 2012.

2.  Assemble an outfit. You'll do better in the days of yore if you look more or less like you belong there. Do you research, but remember that you just might have everything you need for a 600-year-old ensemble waiting in your own drawers and cupboards. 

Here I am in my homemade medieval dress or "kirtle." The kirtle itself is fairly authentic in its construction, though the material and accessories are not. However, I only spent $5 on this outfit -- the price of the shoes I found at Goodwill to complete the outfit.

3. Take a road to its utter end. If possible, take several roads until you can take them no further.  

When I was very small, too young to go beyond the sidewalk of our city block by myself, I would sit on the street corners and strain my eyes, wondering where South 9th Street or Grant Avenue ended. I was convinced that wonderful things must happen when roads End. Last Saturday, I took I-65 south to Exit 0, then drove further south on Alabama 293 until it ended, and finally, I drove on Dauphin Island's Bienville Blvd until I reached the end not only of the road, but of the island itself.

The end of the road.

4. Travel in good company. Find friends who know they way back, or who are willing to explore with you. 

5. Savor all that is obsolete, strange, and lost. 

I spent this weekend camping at an event called Gatalop, sponsored by the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. We spent the weekend at Ft. Gaines on Dauphin Island, Alabama. Amid the tournaments, meals, music, revelry, and markets, I spent most of my time trying to see, smell, hear, and feel as a medieval woman might.

I attended to the creak and slap of wooden shutters in the wind; to the crisp snap of canvas tent flaps; to the sound of drums in the night; to the sight of a piper standing atop the fortified walls; to the  warm shadows of firelight as I drifted to sleep; to the snug tension of a rope bed; to the precious weight of wool on a cold day.

6. Bring the past back with you. 

On an ordinary day, I might lead one group of students through a 14th-century text, discuss a 3000-year-old epic with another, then come home to knead bread according to a nineteenth-century recipe and knit a sweater from a 1940s pattern. It is difficult to feel lonely when so much history comes to rest in my small rooms.

Do you ever travel back in time through books, movies, music, or perhaps even reenacting? What sort of presence does the past have in your daily life? 


  1. It's so crazy that you asked that . . . I just finished what I referred to as my "time-travel project" over the past few months, literally the day before you posted this (on the 26th). I described it here: and here's my finished list:

    I love this whole idea (obviously), and these are great guidelines. I wish I'd had them before I started! :)


  2. I read and attempt to make things from scratch when cooking. This looks like it was so much fun!!

  3. The Past (tm) is a very present part of my life. I am unusual in that I have done genealogy since I was a young child (which I understand is an Unusual Thing). I'm also a big SF fan. I used to say that my passions were the past (my familial past as well as the distant past) and the future.; the present is merely a vehicle to ferry me around! :-D

    I love my times in the past. The mental (and emotional) vacation is just priceless.

  4. I don't really have to tell YOU how I travel back in time. It happens every time I open my tool box to pull out a 50-year-old chisel or a 75-year-old saw to do a quick house repair. My cordless drill has exposed gears and a hand crank. My workbench has a couple of simple clamps whose design was familiar to George Herbert:


  5. Today I visited an old doctor's office in a very small town; built by the community and maintained by a board of directors even though the office hasn't had a regular physician in over 30 years. Oh what a treasure! More of this later. This is a gorgeous blog Bethany. I will sent Steve some pictures of the clinic. All the letters labelling the various rooms on their doors are hand-made. Not gorgeous, but very much like "home" if not "hearth"

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