We have a living history event this weekend. It is going to rain buckets, according to weather.com. That was a technical system of measurement. Buckets. Big ones.
I get a bit testy thinking about going and sitting in a field for two days with the promise of sodden shoes looming ahead of me. Of course, history wasn't all sunshine and bright breezes, so of course we must maintain the stiff upper lip and face up to unpleasant weather. But, for history afficianados, historical fiction writers, and those who like to revel in their modern comforts, a few reasons why poor weather really, really stunk back in the day.
1) Wet canvas smells like moldy cheese. OK, most people in the eighteenth century had actual homes to live in, so this one doesn't count for the average person. But if you were on campaign with the army, as we often are in our reenactment lives, this one's a biggie. Canvas tents don't leak too terribly when they're well made, and do offer quite a bit of protection from the elements. (Until the water gets too high and there's a four-inch-deep lake in your wall tent, but that's another thing entirely. And, yes, this has happened to me.) However, they develop an odd, slightly nauseating odor. An odor quite a bit like warm, sweating, molding cheese. Yack.
2) And wet wool stinks, too. All our guys' uniforms, and quite a bit of the ladies' clothes, are made of wool. Wet wool smells like a disgruntled half-bathed sheep. Why disgruntled? Smell it and you'll understand.
3) Your stove doesn't work. Neither does your oven. And the heating is busted, too. So here's the thing--our campfires are our cooking appliances and our main sources of warmth. Again, in a nice house, this is less of an issue, though damp wood is crappy for everybody. However, on campaign, wet wood and a driving rain combine to make starting a fire either difficult or impossible. Sometimes, if you've already gotten a good fire going, it can ride out a rainstorm. I've seen burning logs floating in rain-flooded fire pits. But for the most part, it's smoky, lukewarm output at best.
4) Which means when you get wet, you stay wet. Yes, you can change clothes. Up to a point. But people didn't have the inexhaustable closets we have today. Say you're rather poor--you may only have one spare shirt. And when that's soaked, well, you're just going to have to be wet. And on campaign, you have even fewer options than you might at home. Oh, and that campfire that won't start? It's also your only clothes dryer.
5) It's well....boring. Much of the best part about "back then" is all the outdoorsy things we can do--walks and games and roving from camp to camp visiting. There's only so much you can do under the cover of canvas--sewing and reading are decent distractions for a while, and card games can liven things up. But at some point, everyone gets a bit stir-crazy. Modern conveniences like movies, the webbernet, and even light to read by start to sound rather nice on a rainy day. And the challenge of staying dry starts to get a bit tedious.
But you know what? We always manage to have a good time. Even if it means huddling under canvas, eating cold food, smelling one another's sheepy scents, and playing round after round of whist. Because the most authentic thing of all is a stiff upper lip and a cheerful spirit.