From year to year, the fair experience varies not at all in most ways. We walk the same paths, our eyes drawn to the same colors and textures, we even take the same photos from year to year and we likely visit the same vendors. In other ways our fair differs every year in taller, more independent children (ours now teens), the fullness (or thinness) of our own pocketbook, the friends and family we meet, the crops that thrived and the ones that didn't. The weather is most unpredictable of all. Will it be the rare fair where we melt, seek any scrap of shade and drink all the iced lemonade we can stand? Or will we need mittens and woolens, and fill up on chai and hot cider? Perhaps rain boots, ponchos and umbrellas will be needed? We all pay close attention to the forecast up until the fair, and inevitably we decide we need all our gear, shorts and t-shirts, wool hats and down vests, mud boots and slickers, and the contents of our mud room is dumped into the back of our car. We know, from years of experience, that the forecast means diddly-squat when you are miles from home and planning to spend three days on the fairgrounds.
Friday was cool and overcast, sunny in the evening. Saturday it misted and rained, was warm and sticky. Sunday, dawned crisp, brilliant and perfectly autumn. In other words, it was good we had a variety of clothing from which to choose.
On Friday, we visited the Youth Enterprise Zone and purchased some art, elderberry soda and breakfast and marveled at the variety of handcrafts Maine's youth produced.
The rest of Friday I spent visiting. At every turn I ran into a friend or a group of friends, some I hadn't seen in far too long. And so we talked, and sat, and little ones ran between us, their children curled in laps, mine found me and sat beside us and joined in the conversations. We caught up. We talked about our days, things we dreamed about doing, things we hope to never do again and simply laughed, enjoying the company of our friends.
Alex attended some demos while I visited with friends, mostly those dealing with farmland protection and forestry management. We all made it a point to catch Friday's keynote featuring Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers. We liked a lot of what she had to say, most of it very familiar, having read her books and blog. I strongly related to her advice to begin with something, make it a point to slow down in at least one area of your life and make it a ritual of mindfulness. She recommended hanging the wash on the clothesline. I listened to her words and nodded my head, knowing how true her words are for me. Hanging the wash requires me to slow down, it gets me outside, it's meditative and a ritual in home caring, in addition to all the other environmental benefits not running our dryers provides.
I think the rest of Friday, we spent eating, roaming the fair, visiting and enjoying the evening sun that broke through the clouds.
Despite Friday evening's sunshine, Saturday brought a misty rain, the kind that will soak you if you don't wear rain gear, and because it was just warm enough, we were guaranteed a nice clammy, humid day, walking around being mostly wet and sticky. Fortunately, the mist didn't deter people from coming to the fair by the thousands. Unfortunately, this meant navigating the fair, sticky and wet, through throngs of people. We each had our Gene Wilder moment on Saturday, I think.
It wasn't the worst rain we've ever experienced at the fair, however and there were dry moments too. That morning, we made sure to visit the farmers early, to get loaded up on carrots, greens, onions, cider, maple syrup and honey. We also picked up bulbs at Fedco for planting this fall (so much planting! eek!) and a few other items that we have been coveting for many years. Alex, burdened like a pack mule, walked everything back to the car, came back and then we enjoyed the rest of our day, knowing we had some crucial purchases made before vendors sold out.
While we did some shopping, Olivia sat in on the farm apprenticeship discussion, and Adam decided to take MOOMilk on the volunteer request they had put out in an email. He spent the next four and half hours greeting people and pouring milk. The MOOMilk people told Adam over and over how much they appreciated his help. For Adam's part, he was thrilled to do it and insisted he'd be back on Sunday, to the wonder of the dairy farmers.
We spent the rest of the day looking for certain friends we knew were at the fair and never spotting them, sadly, as the crowd was so huge, and we stopped by the Taproot Magazine booth to see if Amanda needed a break. She opted to spend the next hour walking with me and Alex, catching up on families and farm news. It was a lovely hour spent with a friend. I was thrilled to finally get my subscription too, complete with back issues and I've been happily perusing since (sometimes I cry, the pieces are that moving - I'm looking at you Steve Soule).
We took in more fair sites, and towards evening, found our teens again and enjoyed a meal together as the sun, once again, cleared the gloom away.
As the fair closed down for the evening, fog settled over the fairgrounds. The moon rose and the tents stood in ghostly relief against the periwinkle sky. The shape of my family blurred, their steps disappearing into the mist before me.
Sunday was true to its name. The autumn equinox day glowed, radiated golden light and we took ourselves to the fair for the final day.
Sunday at the fair is almost always quieter, at least at the start. The morning was brilliant and we got breakfast, marveling at the perfectly clear, dry, perfectly autumnal day. Our kids opted for some just out of the wood fired oven pretzels for their first meal, and Olivia had to have her favorite Blood Juice (a beet, apple, lime and ginger concoction.) Alex and I had coffee and egg and ham sandwiches. We spotted, too, vendors, relishing the quiet morning before the crowds arrived. Looking up, we saw geese in chevron flight.
Alex and I went to a demo on farmland management, where horses and oxen plowed a field just paces away and a thumb-sized cicada landed at my feet, its wings beating noisily.
After breakfast, Adam went off to volunteer again at the MOOMilk booth and Olivia and I met up for the keynote presented by Sarah Smith of Grassland Farm.
After checking in with Adam and finding out he wanted to put in more hours, we found Alex and three of us went off to say hello to the fair's many animals, all of which seemed to also be enjoying the beautiful day and somewhat quieter fair.
Sunday afternoon, Olivia, Alex and I went to the lacto-fermentation demo that was really interesting and got us all anxious to go home and start, well, lacto-fermenting things (and oh boy have we, more on that in another post.)
With just an hour or two left of the fair, we went to claim Adam, whereupon the MOOMilk people raved more about Adam and offered to write him job and college recommendations. I think they might have packed him up to take him home with them if they could have. Adam was pretty pleased that he got to shake Chellie Pingree's hand and chat her up about the importance of saving Maine's dairy farms.
And so our fair came to an end. We walked out together, stopping to stock up on Maine Medicinal's Antho-Immune, (seriously can't say enough good things about the product) and we stopped one last time in the farm market to soak in the gorgeous colors and decide on any final purchases.
Content with our fair experience, we got our tired selves back to our car and Alex drove us over Maine's stunning, rolling farmlands, back to the homestead, where we would visit with his parents over tea before packing up and heading the two hours home.
Another year come and gone, many changes are afoot, and we thought about last year's fair and how quickly the year has passed. We reflect on those changes, the ones that have already occurred and the ones to come. Some will be or have been about upheaval, and others will be positive and deeply meaningful. As always, Joni Mitchell provides the soundtrack of our fair, as we play her in the car on our trips to and from (this year, with teens in the car, AWOLNation--amazing cd-- and The Killers joined the playlist). I'll see you at the Common Ground Fair next year perhaps, and we'll talk about the circle game.
And the seasons they go 'round and 'round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and 'round and 'round
In the circle game
And go 'round and 'round and 'round in the circle game.