I am just about finished with FORGE (well, this draft, at least). A small part of my lifestyle already mimics the late 18th century: heating my cottage (and our house) with wood instead of electricity or fossil fuel. I grow a lot of food in the garden. I have been known to scratch out pages of notes with a quill and ink. (However I am not crazy enough to give up my computer for writing.)
Last fall I cooked a squash over an open fire for a scene in my book that is based on one of the experiences of Private Joseph Plumb Martin. Performing the task as he did was really important for getting the scene right. I’ve tried to do that with a number of scenes in the book.
(Remind me, please, to write a book about an upper glass girl who lives in Paris in 1910. No risk of frostbite researching that one!)
Most of FORGE takes place in Valley Forge; my story does not shy away from the physical challenges of that encampment. That winter (1777-1778) was not the coldest winter of the war, not at all. But the department of the Commissary was in total disarray, the supply lines were nonexistent, and the Congress – which had been formed to fight a war which everyone thought would take a few months at best – was unprepared to coordinate the purchase and delivery of food, clothing, blankets, soap, and medical supplies for 11,000 soldiers.
Which is why Valley Forge was hell. The soldiers went through several periods of having little or nothing to eat. Many of them were wearing rags. Some lacked shirts. Others lacked jackets. Some had to wear blankets because their pants had fallen apart. Many had no shoes or boots.
Which brings me to this morning’s experiment. It was 13 degrees outside. We had a fresh couple of inches of snow two days ago. It was time for me to step back into time.
I am wearing garb that is as close to Rev War-era as my closet would allow: a linen shirt that I wear to Renaissance Faires, my husband’s Renn Faire britches, hand-knit wool stockings, a scarf, knit cap, knit gloves and a thin wool blanket. No boots. The fact that my clothing was not torn, muddied, or crawling with various insect life, makes this barely authentic, but I didn’t want anyone calling the authorities because a half-dressed crazy woman was walking in the snow.
It sure felt authentic to my feet. I walked up to the cottage to get my hatchet. I planned on then walking to the mailbox (a little more than a tenth of a mile), get the mail, head back to the house and split some wood (with an axe, not the hatchet) because I needed the wood anyway.
Ha. I am a weenie. I have cowardly feet.
After fetching the hatchet, I managed a couple hundred paces and then my feet quit in protest. At first they went numb, which wasn’t so bad, but then they were in wicked pain. I knew if I kept going they would go numb again, which made the prospect tempting, but I figured my health insurance company would deny my claim for frostbite treatment on account of stupidity. We bagged the mailbox walk and the wood chopping and settled for a few paces in the snow for the benefit of the camera.
I am typing this an hour and a half after I came back inside. My feet still hurt.
I continue to be in awe of the soldiers and the women (and children) who survived that winter at Valley Forge.
Off to heap more wood on the fire now!