In more agrarian days, county fairs may have been scheduled in the autumn to coincide with harvest, but now most fairs are more about fun and much less about wheat, big pumpkins and perfectly pickled cucumbers.
Some would tag the more modern version of a country fair as lesser; I prefer to cast it as simply different. It has its own merits, evident if you just look.
The Spokane Interstate Fair is one of the big events on my annual schedule. It follows on the heels of the Spokane Symphony concert at Comstock Park and both signal the onset of fall. Football season, leaves rustling down the street on a breeze, the last blooms of summer flowers. Gentle afternoons. Darkness almost as soon as I pull in the driveway after work.
The fair offers up a bushel basket of all the right smells and sights of the season. Popcorn, barbecue, steaming giant ears of corn, elephant ears, dahlias, bunnies, sheep and pigs. And, really, it’s the pigs - those gigantic grunting rolls of bacon-on-the-hoof - that jerk me back to the real reason I like the fair: It’s just about the only place you can see farm stuff so oversized you are compelled to stare. You only need to stand near the pig pens for a few minutes and listen to the comments to know others also appreciate agricultural excess. As a bacon eater, it makes you grateful other folks are willing to have those beasts even on the property.
The fair boasts more than pigs, though. Every year I dutifully submit my guesstimate of the weight of pumpkins the size of Volkswagens. And wonder how the contestants got those big squashes in their vehicles to cart them off to the fair. There are big spuds and tall sunflowers. And what the honeybees on exhibit lack in size, they make up in sheer numbers. I never miss the entries of beets, zuks, tomatoes and beans and the shelves of spaghetti, acorn and sweet meat squash. As I cruise through the sheep barn I look keenly for signs of extreme dumbness for which these wooly animals are famed, and note the goats already gnawing on the wooden slats of their cages. And who can resist the lambs that spend hours bleating at anyone and no one? The bunnies I save for last.
These furry, long-eared - lop-eared to those in the know - creatures captured my heart early on. The day I attended the fair used to depend on the bunny schedule. That was before the fairgrounds expanded the exhibit space so buildings could house more than one type of animal or fowl. In earlier years, the bunny entries filled an entire building, as did the sheep, the dairy cows, the pigs and the steers. That meant the bunnies were at the fair only half the week and then the building was turned over to the chickens and ducks, with which I’ve never bonded. The same rotation applied to the dairy cows and steers as well as other animal types. Much more planning was required for successful fair-going if seeing one particular type of animal was the standard of success.
Now, though, it’s all the animals all the time. Which means any day at the fair is a good day.
Not all of my time at the fair is spent touring animal barns, however. Veteran fairgoers always have their favorite attractions. The array seems vast so it’s important to pace yourself if you expect to see quilt displays, the aquarium entries, the floral palace, the dog obedience demonstration, the pellet stoves, the karaoke booth, the spas, the vacuum cleaner and water purifier demonstrations… . And plan to go hungry and eat a couple of times.
Some folks go just for the carnival and wile away the hours on the rides or at games of chance. Some simply linger along the aisles and watch other people having a great time.
The fair comes just once a year, like a rite of autumn. You’ll find me hanging out near the bunnies, whispering in those lop-ears that they should avert their bunny eyes from the booth at the door selling bunny pelts and lucky rabbits feet.
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