Thursday, August 27, 2009

Off to the Fair!

Is it fair to include a post about Washington County Fair in a blog about Saratoga County? Well, sure it is, when Saratogians go there. After my walk along Bog Meadow Trail this morning, the day was still young and as beautiful as a summer day can be. Hey Denis, I said to my hubby, let's go to the fair. So off we went across the Hudson to Washington County.

I hadn't been to a county fair for something like 45 years and the thing that struck me most was how exactly the same it all seemed. The same smells and sounds, the same rides, the same games of chance and skill (the prizes a little different), the same foot-long hot dogs and cotton candy, the same barns full of farm animals, all those proud 4-H kids like the kids I remember leading prize calves around show rings. Made me feel like a kid again.

We arrived as teams of giant horses -- Belgians and Percherons and Clydesdales -- were being put through their paces in a show ring next to a tent for draft animals.

That tent sheltered this huge pair of brother oxen. Oh my, but those gentle giants were ENORMOUS! And how calm they were, as the crowds milled around them, and how affectionate they were with one another, leaning against each other, rubbing heads. Enormous heads. With big horns. And big sweet eyes. Wow!

A big barn came next, with all kinds of dairy cattle: Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, and breeds I'd never heard of. Another barn held cattle bred for beef, including this beautiful Charolais cow and her pretty white calf. (Gulp! I rarely eat beef, but wouldn't you know, I ate a burger just yesterday.)

And here is a pretty little girl and her pretty little calf.

I haven't moved among cows since I was a kid, and I marveled at how at ease young children seemed to be around these huge animals. I guess it helps to start young.

There weren't many hogs in the barn that said Swine. But there were these two sleepy piglets.

The poultry barn was filled with the din of roosters outdoing each others' crows. And such absolutely exquisite birds! So many colors and plumage styles, some chickens with fancy pantaloons, some with elaborate headdresses. If they had only held still, I could have taken more photos. I did manage to photograph two. This fluffy black blue-eared chicken . . .

. . . and this equally fluffy orange bird with the oddest red comb I have ever seen.

It's strange how powerfully moved I felt, just looking these creatures in the eye and they looking right back at me. When I was a kid and went to the fair, all I wanted to do was ride the rides and eat fair food and above all, flirt with the boys. I didn't give a hoot about the animals, unless I knew a cute boy who was showing one. How our priorities shift as we grow old! Those rides and that food now make me feel queasy, and the only boy I want to hold hands with has been my dear husband for nearly 47 years. And today I wanted nothing more than to walk through those barns, to stand close to those cows, those chickens, those sheep, those pigs. Usually I see these farm animals off in the distance, just dots on a faraway hill. But today I could touch them and talk to them and really sense our fellow creatureliness. And because each stall and pen had a sign above it, I could even call each one by name. Yes, I know many of these animals are raised to be killed for food. And no, I am not a vegetarian, I do eat a little meat. But it was good to see how serene and clean and cared-for these animals were: raised, not just humanely, but with love.


Carolyn H said...

Your visit to the fair looks like great fun. I've never seen a chicken like that one with the weird comb either.

Carolyn h.

Jens Zorn said...

Thanks for this evocative description that takes me back to the fairs visited when I lived in Southern Indiana and, for short time, worked on a farm in Southwestern Missouri.

I have never understood how a 4H'r could work so closely with an individual animal and then see it sold off to the packing house.
Although the workers on cattle farms probably have ways to compartmentalize their bond with animals, I imagine it would be particularly difficult for a child who has cared so intensely for an animal from which they must part.

Jane Balter said...

Thanks for the beautiful description of your visit, mom! I could feel the cows sweet breath and smell the warm hay.

love you,

Woodswalker said...

Carolyn H: You should have seen some of the others! Dreadlocks and topknots and fluffy spats and zebra stripes and jewel colors -- amazing!

Jens: Yes, I was thinking about that when I asked that little girl if could photograph her with her calf--a Hereford calf, one bred for beef, not milk. She obviously adored that animal, patting and kissing it and calling it by name. And it responded with evident affection. I suppose her folks let her care for a new one each year, allowing for a transfer of that affection. But still . . . . It would be interesting to meet and talk with some former 4Hers about this. Good farmers give their animals good lives and merciful deaths. Unfortunately, most slaughterhouses are horrendous.

Dear Jane, so good to hear your comment. I wish we had gone to more county fairs with you when you were a child.