Uninvited reenactors win this Civil War skirmish

With a canvas tent and a period Federal uniform, MY SON is ready for action.

Now that the weather has warmed, my son, Tim, and his pal Dan spend many a weekend indulging their interest in Civil War reenacting, using our farm's hilltop pasture as their camp headquarters. Tim's birthday and Christmas requests over the past several years have been almost single-mindedly devoted to his passion for the era and its epic conflict.

Now, with a canvas tent, cot, stools, a period Federal uniform, and an assortment of soldierly supplies, he is ready for action. All too soon for me, this will involve mock battles in formal engagements around the state and region. That's not my cup of tea, but considering that Tim might have seen real battle had he turned 15 in 1861, I count my blessings and cut him slack to reenact.

For the time being, he and Dan are gaining experience in drill and 1860s-style camp life on the crest of the pasture hill. The site commands a strategic (and lovely) view of the stream valley that's within calling range of the log cabin where I like to overnight when the boys sleep out.

I do not wear period dress, but otherwise I go with the boys' flow.

"Good woman!" comes the shout early one morning. "Please present yourself on your porch!" I dutifully open the screen door and step out to be heralded again:

"We must requisition your firewood!" Then I watch, aghast, as the pair make off with my breakfast kindling.

I cannot approach their camp without a call to "halt and identify yourself," which I do, though with a somewhat pained, "Oh relax, it's only your mum."

Aside from a shy pack of coyotes, which howled from afar to the firepit's dying embers one night, and a local raccoon nosing at the cooking pot, the boys have been wholly undisturbed. They've enjoyed the peaceful rhythms of the camp without the harsh realities of winter or war, or even the noise and heat of mock battle.

Indeed, life on the hilltop hummed along splendidly until the pasture gate was opened and our cows, which had been fenced off the grass until the winter hay ran out, began to reassert their claim on the back 40 - traditionally their summer territory.

Signs of potential conflict emerged when one of the camp's firewood logs showed up one Monday morning at the base of the big hill. It must have been pushed over the lip to roll to the bottom. The boys were in school, so I carried the log back up for them. The next day found it down below again - same log, same place. I began to suspect familiar forces of bovine nature.

The following Sunday, we invited a small group of civilians from town to the campsite for a cookout. The herd lost no time closing in. Sierra Sue and Margy peered at the gathering from the nearby hedgerow, their bodies shrouded in green, only their heads showing.

Hilary risked a brief, skirmishing rush at the dogs guarding the supply wagon, faded back, then came on again, this time inspiring our border collie to streak for cover.

After Tim had driven her off, she and her mates circled the back pasture and angled toward us from another direction. They kept their distance, but remained highly vigilant.

The next day was another school day, so we cleaned up and left the camp site as dusk fell. To save the tent another week of weathering and possible invasion, the boys had already stowed it in the cabin, along with their bedrolls and gear. But the firepit would remain for future camps and cookouts, and to stake their claim on the hilltop.

Under cover of that night's darkness, what should henceforth be known as Company "W" moved in, sent the log rolling down the hill one more time for good measure, then gathered to bask in the lingering warmth of the firepit.

Gradually, in the patient, irreverent way of cows, they laid claim to the hilltop without firing a shot - which is the kind of civil warfare I can smile about, even if Tim and Dan won't.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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