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Thirteen Kingdoms in Twelve Months: Iron Mountains
[10/19/2010] [Randall]

Several weeks ago in early September, Azrael-Jade and I embarked on a road trip from Las Cruces, New Mexico all the way to Omaha, Nebraska and back. Accompanied by two very patient dogs and stopping along the way for a family reunion, we experienced a little bit what it’s like for the members of Querna Tema to go to Clan. Although the journey was plenty long, seventeen hours each direction, we managed to break it up by stopping in places like Tucumcari, Liberal, and Cambridge. That meant we just had to drive across all of Nebraska to play Amtgard on that particular weekend. I hope I don’t have to tell you that Nebraska is a pretty big state for not being a pretty big state.

Our brief sojourn through Omaha revealed it to be an attractive city, and the park where Querna Tema meets on Saturdays looked like a very nice, upscale park. There were many trees, lots of joggers and dogs, and a beautiful bridge cutting across what appeared to be some kind of stream. The local population had a “pretty people” vibe that you sometimes get in richer residential areas. After driving around the park for a little bit trying to find Amtgarders, we eventually saw the tell-tale shapes and flashes that indicated foam was nearby.

While it struck me how remarkably well our eyes have attuned to identifying what is an Amtgard blob and what is not an Amtgard blob when it comes to scanning a park looking for where Amtgard is playing, it took a few moments to spot the Amtgarders. Tunics and shields don’t exactly stick out amidst all the other colors and shapes of a typical park, but they present an unmistakable profile to our retrained brains, and that can sometimes make everything look like an Amtgarder from far away. My dog had just the day before barked at something because the shape registered in her brain as being an animal. It amused me to understand a little bit how she felt. Even so, the difference between “maybe that’s an Amtgard over there?” and “that’s Amtgard there” is pretty sharp. I wonder if other people feel the same way when trying to find Amtgarders at unfamiliar parks.

The Amtgarders themselves were not entirely unfamiliar. Kupe and Yoto walked up immediately to greet us both. We had to put off further introduction until we walked and fed our dogs, but then we got garbed up and settled in. People were very friendly, giving us camp chairs to use and generally introducing themselves. After putting on entirely too much garb, and saying hello to Balinor, another familiar face, I meandered to where some people were sparring to fight. I sparred with some guy who had no shirt and a strange hammer thing. Speed got me through that series of fights until I realized that the extra layers of tunic were a bad idea; the park in September is plenty warm. That was an excuse to take a quick break while the events of the day got started, during which I got to say howdy to Teleri again and finally put a face to Shin's name.

Eventually, about twenty people were at the park, give or take, and folks started to get going for the jugging that was scheduled for the day. I wasn’t sure what to expect. At my park, we have pretty friendly jugging, and have cultivated a culture in which even newbies can enjoy it. I remember the dark old days of jugging, where it was seen as an excuse to cheat, and worried that it would be the same at Querna Tema. My worries were without merit – the jugging was fantastic. We did several runs, most of them evenly matched enough to be terrifically fun. I fought hard in the first series of matches, and had a momentary worry that my shot clock calibration would be perceived incorrectly. Basically, I was hand-blocking a few shots that could have appeared to have connected and didn’t want people to think the high-and-mighty visitor was coming to their park to sluff their shots. It’s the kind of thought process I would’ve had years ago, but my worries were again unfounded. Even before I could finish saying to anybody that I had hand-blocked this or that a shot was late, people were letting me know that they knew. It made for a very positive and rewarding jugging experience.

Water was provided for all of us, and I drank a lot of that before getting back to the ditching. We fought for what seemed like hours on the jugging field. Fighting Balinor, Ruuna, Yoto, Kupe and others was a terrific experience. It felt like a good environment for an aspiring fighter to learn and grow. I was punished for trying to get fancy on my broken toe, but otherwise did all right. I found that I did better sparring one-on-one than in the ditch, which may say something about the park’s tactical attention or my lack of tactical attention. I particular enjoyed sparring afterwards with Kupe and (I believe) Kakeda.

It wasn’t just fighting and jugging. The park also boasted what seemed to be a fairly vibrant color community that watched the proceedings. People had decent garb and sat and chit-chatted. I noticed in particular that Querna Tema has a larger female population than I’ve seen in some other parks. Some people brought their kids as well. The entire experience had a fun, family-friendly vibe to it.

I fought until the day was over. Things wounded down in a familiar way, with most people filtering off to a party (at Kupe’s house – thanks for the invitation, even though we couldn’t make it) and a few people hanging around having Amtgard conversations. . . those few not quite ready to take off their garb, get back into their cars, and go back to normal life. The people who lingered engaged in the familiar banter of end-of-the-day Amtgard: knights giving friendly ribbing to their squires, people talking about how the park was going and how Amtgard was doing, and making fun of Hannibal. Eventually, Azrael-Jade and I had to hit the road - inspired by a fireworks display that terrified our dogs - so we bid our final farewells to the handful of people still there and set off for home.

Querna Tema is a friendly, fun park, well worth the visit. If jugging in an open field in what was termed by the people as a slower day was that much fun, games in the wider arena of the park when the population is in full throttle must be spectacular. I enjoyed the fighting, which was non-stop and didn’t pause often for idle chatter. I also enjoyed talking to the people on the sidelines when I had to take a break for water. These are good people with a good park, and I encourage y’all to make an excuse to swing on by.

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