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08.08.2003

Addison County Fair and Field Days

Tonight we tested the better half's newly acquired vegan principles in the crucible of the Addison County Fair and Field Days, the local summer agricultural fair, where every animal on display is also conveniently available served hot on a kaiser roll.

Winner: Fair and Field Days, by a margin of one (1) BBQ pork sandwich and one (1) Italian sausage roll with onions. But we did also consume onion rings and the crust and outer mantle of a caramel apple, so you can't call it a rout.

The Fair and Field Days is the big summer event in these parts, and an enormous amount of fun. I saw my first bona-fide tractor pull, which wasn't as glamorous as the one the better half caught last year (she saw the souped-up, racing tractor category), but did feature the dirt equivalent of a Zamboni, a fascinating machine for smoothing out the ruts in a race course. We were too late for the piglet races, but we did make it in time to watch the arm-wrestling competition, apparently in the bantamweight division (either that, or it's been a hungry year for area arm-wrestlers).

The fair is part carnival, part trade show for local farmers, and part county fair and competition for local 4H clubs. Unlike other Vermont summer extravaganzas (like the Quechee baloon festival, or the eponymous Vermont Summer Festival in Manchester ), it's targeted more at locals than at tourists, which means you don't have to look at Sabra Field prints or endure innumerable stands selling maple candy. Instead, you get to gawk at sales displays of maple sap boiling equipment, which is silvery and bright and extremely impressive (except for the plastic sap sucking rigs, which look serpentine and evil).

There were many pavillions filled with great quantities of ag equipment for sale (as well as more sinister items, like the giant snowmobiles area rednecks use to persecute us in the wintertime), and even more pavillions filled with prize-winning quilts, cookies, vegetables, photographs, knit sweaters, and pretty much any other handicraft you could think of, all submitted by local craftspeople and gardeners of all ages. Some of these were beautifully made/grown/cooked/sewn/built, others were somewhat crude, but labelled in little-kid handwriting that melted your heart. There was a suspicious profusion of 'Grand Prize' ribbons this year, a kind of Lake Wobegon effect right here in Vermont. But if even Harvard suffers from grade inflation, why begrudge Addison County?

I haven't even mentioned the animals. Animals are everywhere at the County Fair. The most memorable exhibit by far is the Vermont Bloodsucking Insect Fiesta, which covers the entire fairground site and spills out into the rest of the Champlain Valley, as well as everywhere else in the state. But also worthy of mention are the dairy barns (where bored kids sit on camp chairs, and little calves sleep in that strange broken-neck posture they find so restful), and the horse stables, full of giant beautiful horses that are sick of being gawked at by the likes of me, and won't even look up.

I snuck over into the kids' petting zoo, and saw my first alpaca, an animal that looks like the Edsel of hoofed ruminants, an expensive and embarrasing animal design fiasco. There were also beautiful miniature ponies, and miniature donkeys - a whole section devoted to Bonsai farm animals. You could pet bristly cute piglets with one hand, while holding the BBQ-licious mortal remains of one of their brethren in the other, and there was even an exhausted emu in the corner, collapsed in a great pile of feathers next to a macabre sign extolling "my 100% pure oil and lean, heart-healthy red meat!".

There was probably a lot more to see, but the better half and I got suckered into playing a sinister gambling game, involving a flat metal sheet covered with quarters, with a precipice on one end and a sliding metal block on the other. The block moved back and forth a fixed distance, and there was a little chute down which you could roll quarters, trying to get them to land in front of the block. If you timed it so the quarter landed while the block was fully retracted, and if it landed properly, then the moving block would push the coin against the flat sheet of coins in front, and cause a chain reaction that would spill coins off the edge precipice, straight into your waiting greedy hands.

Coins were literally hanging off the precipice, dangling in midair, so that the slightest nudge would cause a semester's tuition to cascade down into the wooden tray. But no nudge seemed to do it, even as we fed money into the machine, each coin moving the whole mass out further and further, impossibly far.

We won seventy-five cents, spent six bucks trying, and made it home late and satisfied.

The Rutland State Fair - an even bigger event - starts on the last of August. Who can wait? .

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