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My First Fair

July 31, 2018
By Darren Fraser , Emmetsburg News

Two weekends ago, I experienced my first true county fair and it was remarkable.

I grew up Southern California (Orange County, to be precise). The Orange County Fair is a big deal, but there isn't much fair there. (I began to harbor doubts about its validity when someone tried to pass off an unkempt standard poodle as a goat.)

I realize what I am going to write will be no big deal to you veterans of the Palo Alto County Fair. A 2000-pound bull? Big whoop. A young lady vacuuming said 2000-pound bull? Well, someone has to.

The three days I spent looking at you through my camera lens were, on the whole, poetic. I confess photographing a Great Dane trying to navigate a 12-inch-wide plank was surreal. As was walking through the livestock buildings and observing the gargantuan, slumbering sows, lined up next to each other like supertankers in port.

As I snapped photos of the balloon guy twisting animals, I heard a disturbance to my right. A pony from the pony ride had bolted, dragging a section of fence with her as she careened through the grounds. It was one of those moments when everything stops because you can't believe what you're seeing. Reality set in when a small army of individuals tried to corral the spooked equine. (Luckily, no one was hurt, including the pony.)

I was gobsmacked by the athleticism of the women who competed in the dog agility contest. Let's be honest: not all of the pooches cooperated. One fellow decided he had had enough and lay down for a nap. Another slipped her leash and bolted, her handler in tow. But whatever minor disaster befell them, the women never lost their composure. They simply rolled with it. To me, that is grace.

I did not participate in the livestock judging competition, which was a good thing. I suspect I would not have made much of a judge. "That's a cow. That's another cow. I'm pretty sure that's a chicken. It could be a pheasant. But I'm leaning toward chicken."

The greatest thing about an event like this and this can be said for life is the unexpected. Serendipity and all of that. I included in my photo montage I compiled a picture of a lad frolicking across the grass in his warpaint. He grew camera shy when he realized I had trained my lens on him. But that was okay. I caught him mid joie de vivre and that's what counts.

The fair possessed a rhythm. Initially, I did not think much was happening. A few pavilions, some games. But as I gamboled about, I realized this is what a county fair should be. In California, particularly at some of the larger venues, the same vendors are seen at nearly every event. They pull in and set up their booths. They sell framed photos of young and old Elvis and Kettle Corn and garlic fries and water purification systems. It's like a garage sale absent the haggling. Our fair had none of that. No commercialism; no kitsch. Nothing crass. Just earnest competition, sincere enjoyment and a sense of community lacking in fairs that draw100,000 people.

One of the more poignant moments occurred at the dog agility contest. The same dog who decided on a mid-course nap injured his foot. One of the women running the event noticed the dog's distress and picked him up. Mind you; this was no small pooch. (I included a picture of her carrying the befuddled dog.) The deceptively strong woman carried the complacent canine to his owner's vehicle. I thought, "How remarkable."

The tribute to Palo Alto County's war dead typified the quiet elegance of the fair. The photographs of these young men and women who died serving this country were tastefully displayed. The true horror of war is never more in evidence when we are presented with so many young lives cut short entirely too soon.

I will not end on a somber note. One of my montage photos was of a bull. I spent quite a while gazing at this impassive giant. I looked around and then asked the bovine, "So, what do you think about all of this?" Since this is not a Jerry Lewis movie, he simply stared and chewed his cud.



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