Sunday, October 14, 2007

County Fair!

I went to the Clallam County Fair in August, and the much larger Puyallup Fair in September. I had never been to a country fair and was curious, and the opportunity presented itself in both cases.

Clallam county is out on the Olympic Peninsula, in Washington and the fair is near the county seat, Port Angeles. This is a fairly remote part of the state that takes some driving to get to, so the Clallam fair had a very “country” feel.

I enjoyed walking through the barns and seeing all the farm animals. As a city person all my life, I had never actually before seen newborn piglets or a sheep being sheared or a competition among home made jams and jellies. I have never actually seen a cow being milked, let alone a goat. If you grew up on a farm, you might think it second nature to wash, rinse, and vacuum a cow as if you were detailing an automobile. Believe me, it was bizarre behavior to my eyes.

I especially enjoyed the kids, who take their animals very seriously. It’s a world I can only imagine, and not very well. I loved their intensity as they willed their dogs to obey, or sat studying the “Dairy Goat Journal,” a publication whose existence I was not aware of. I loved the painstaking felt-tip drawings of “The Bones In A Horse’s Foot,” and posters of “Diseases of Rabbits,” and “What Ferrets Need.”

The Puyallup Fair was at least five times the size, maybe ten times, of the Clallam fair, and included a professional rodeo. Puyallup (pronounced “pyoo-AL-up”) is a town south and east of Tacoma, Washington. Being near to the urban centers, it draws huge crowds.

This fair was enormous and really cannot be experienced all in one day. Some people were scooting about on Segways and by the end of a long afternoon of walking, I could understand why.

It had the same barns full of prize farm animals, but acres more of them and more diverse kinds as well. There was an enormous midway full of rides, building after building full of vendor and demonstration booths highlighting everything from the latest farm equipment to the county Sheriff’s office. There were more kinds of junk food in the offing than I knew even existed, nearly all of it deep fried.

One amazing display was the “Mutton Bustin” contest, in which any child who weighed 60 pounds or less could pay $10 to ride on the back of a woolly sheep as it ran across a dirt field. Most kids fell off immediately after the animal bolted from the gate, but some survived the required six second ride, to the roar of the large crowd. It was the perfect introduction to rodeo riding for children. I survived my entire childhood without the thought ever crossing my mind that it might be desirable to ride on the back of a sheep. This is a world as foreign to mine as if it were aliens from another planet.

I went to the big rodeo, for which I had to buy rather expensive tickets, and it was an amazing thing to see cowboys ride bucking horses and bulls. The crowd was huge, at least ten thousand. Unfortunately, I did not know that loudspeakers play incredibly loud rock and roll music during the rides. Apparently that is supposed to enhance your enjoyment in some way. I did not bring earplugs so I was forced to leave after less than a half hour to protect my hearing. I would have liked to have seen more. Rodeo is a very strange form of entertainment, so raw, so primitive, so direct. Man vs animal. I felt like I was in the Roman Colosseum of the first century. It seemed like nothing had really changed over all those thousands of years.

I liked the Clallam fair better. It seemed more intimate and real. I talked to the girl pictured here about her prizewinning goats. She was very proud of the ribbons she had won. It did not occur to her that actually the goats had won the ribbons.

I think I have had enough county fairs to hold me for a while.


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