Fair Wanderings

“Wow” was the word for the day. 

M. Wester Captures the Wily Jackalope

This past Sunday, Jim and I went to the New Mexico State Fair with our friends Chip Wideman and Michael Wester. Jim and I always try to go to the Fair at least twice. Usually, one of those trips is with Chip. This year was our first with Michael and he proved to be a very pleasant addition.

We arrived shortly after opening. Lines were light, so, without much delay, we found ourselves descending into the tunnel that goes under part of the racetrack. From there we climbed up the steep, shadowed passage. Like four heroes out of some legend, we emerged into a world completely different from the one we had left behind.

Really, there is something extraordinary about the State Fair. I think that’s why it gets cameos in various of my works, including Child of a Rainless Year.

The New Mexico State Fair is built around traditional events. Yes, there is a midway featuring bright, gut-twisting rides and games whose prizes celebrate the latest trends in pop culture. (This year there didn’t appear to be any one dominating theme, although Sonic the Hedgehog in gold metallic fabric was popular, as were pillows and teddy bears made from fabric embellished with dollar bills).

However, the Midway is set up off on the southern edge of the Fairgrounds. If you turn north, as we did, you could almost believe you were attending a state fair from the days of yore. After weaving our way through the Food Court, we sauntered down the Avenue of the Governors toward the Poultry/Rabbit Barn.

The crowing of a selection of roosters greeted us as we entered, but what caught our attention right off were four wire enclosures whose inhabitants were sitting very, very still. On closer inspection, these proved to be four jackalopes, submitted by a local wit.

Greatly cheered, we moved on to the reason this had been our first destination: the guinea pigs. If you’ve been reading between the lines on these wanderings, you will have noted that Jim and I share our home with several guinea pigs (or cavies, as they are known elsewhere in the English-speaking world). We hadn’t entered ours in the show, but we always enjoy seeing the entries. This year was dominated by smoothed-haired varieties, including some enormous males.

After assessing the guinea pigs, we went on to check out the rabbits and poultry. Among the highlights were some amazing ducks about the size of your standard white “Peking” duck, but all-over feathered in the same hue of green more familiar to me from the heads of male mallards. There were many rabbits. I have a weakness for the exotic coat colors, while Jim likes the dwarf lop-ears.

Lastly, there was one of those perfect State Fair Moments, when we waited while a lady took out a black dwarf bunny named Cookie so two toddlers could find out just how soft a real bunny could be.

We moved on from there to the larger livestock. There wasn’t a show going on at that moment in the Horse Complex, but the Dairy Barn was quite active. I’m not quite sure what the event for the day was, but there were quite a lot of young people escorting around newly shaved black-faced, black-legged (but otherwise the usual snowy white) sheep.

Although the day was warming, a good number of the sheep waiting to go on-stage were wearing leotards to protect them against the morning chill. Yes. You read that right. Although many wore a more usual blanket, there were sheep that had been fitted into human-style leotards. Some years you can tell what fad is going out by the patterns (I think they buy on-sale), but this year we mostly saw solids. Still, seeing sheep in leotards is pretty weird, no matter the fabric.

We inspected the cattle, mostly black Angus, but some dairy. Then we went into the Sheep to Shawl exhibit. This is a really nifty program in which you can see everything from a sheep being sheared to wool being washed, spun, carded, dyed, and, of course, woven. They usually have several looms going, and this year we had a nice chat with a woman about the problems generated when ninety feet of thread isn’t strung quite tightly enough.

In the attached shop, Jim bought himself some hand-made fingerless gloves for the field and me a sorceress figure from handmade felt, with elaborate hair in different textures of wool.

We decided we needed to eat and trooped back to the food court where Jim got a Philly sandwich and an enormous boat of fries (which we all shared). The rest of us had gyros. Michael tried his embellished with green chile and seemed to approve.

(Yes. “Chile” is the correct spelling of the word that means “hot peppers” here in New Mexico).

After, we strolled by one of the stages, pausing to watch some children ages six to about twelve do some amazing jump rope demonstrations. On the Avenue of the Governors, there was a Chinese acrobat troupe doing weapons demonstrations and lion dances. These were neat, but we wanted to get back to the more traditional displays.

Our next stop was the Agriculture Building. There, we carefully reviewed all the fruit and veggies on display. The giant pumpkins and sunflower heads were a hit, as always, but this year Jim and I were particularly wowed by some enormous Armenian cucumbers (the same variety we’re growing). I’m not exaggerating when I say that one in particular could have been hollowed out into a canoe large enough to hold Barbie and all her friends.

We said “wow” a lot. We sampled salsa, beef jerky with red chile, peanut brittle with green chile. We watched the kids rolling around in a “sandbox” filled with corn kernels.

My fingers are getting tired and I’ve missed a bunch of delights: the three arts shows, the hobby building, the Indian Village, the Floral Arts show.

We’re going back to the Fair later this week. Let me know if you want me to take you along. I’d also love to know if any of you have a state or country fair near you and, if so, what it’s like.

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5 Responses to “Fair Wanderings”

  1. Katie Michaels Says:

    Oh, I miss the New Mexico State Fair so much!

    The Tulsa State Fair tries hard, but it’s mostly rides and vendors (Sham-Wows always abound, as do jewelry cleaners and Avon ladies). There’s just a tiny section of “Made in Oklahoma” vendors and a miniscule 4-H/FFA barn, one barn each of horses and other livestock, and either poultry OR rabbits, never both. There is a fun petting zoo, though, an abundance of fried-on-a-stick foods (salad, pickles, Twinkies….) and once the Deming Duck Races came and raced some ducks.

    Someday I’ll get back to Albuquerque in September!

  2. Heteromeles Says:

    We’ve got the San Diego County Fair in late June, and the last few years, we’ve gone a number of times. Actually, the belt I’m wearing todaycame from the fair.

    The differences between SD and NM are telling: we’ve got gardening, but it includes a large bonsai collection and quite a few plants from the local horticulture industry. We also has some neat little halls devoted to the work of the local gem and mineral societies and wood-crafters, and at least three halls of work by local student artists, everything from painting and sculpture to computer art.

    Conversely, I’m willing to bet many of the vendors are the same, both food and otherwise. There’s the sham-wows and every other gizmoid. I think they just hit the road, traveling from fair to fair, since I’ve seen the same stands in a number of states. I’ve got to admit, we’ve bought our share. It’s startling how many of those silly things actually work. That reminds me, I need to get the pressure washer out and clean the upstairs windows. That was our goofy purchase this year. sprayer, ball valve and soap reservoir, but it was cheap and it works. What can I say?

  3. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I’d love to go to what sounds like a proper state fair some day.

    The best I get is the Riverside County fair and National Date Festival each February. Pretty much the usual rides, with a kiddy section and a general section. We have our share of agriculture, mostly dates of course, hence the name. There are some interesting exhibits, like a large model train exhibit in one building, another building with rocks, geodes, and related things. Another has home arts (sewing, quilts, ect), and a smaller one is all art only. There is a live stock section, but I haven’t gone to it in years.

    We have a few interesting shows, ostrich and camel races, and a nightly “Pagent”, which is a play of sorts based on one of Queen Scheherazade’s 1,000 tales, with music and occasional modern references tossed in (to varying degrees of improvement each year).

    All in all for me, it hasn’t changed much over the years, which is why my comment has a bit of a dry tone to it. But if you’ve never been to it, it might be interesting.

    And if all else fails, there’s all kinds of shopping to be done. Some good, some bad, some ugly, and a couple quite strange.

  4. Jackie Moore Says:

    I also would love to go to a proper State Fair one day. The Florida State Fair is in Tampa – a 3 hour drive for me. I have heard good things about it, but have never gone. Our county has a fair, but it is mostly rides and 4-H project animals.

    I suspect the “leotards” you saw on the sheep were more to keep them clean than to keep them warm. They make them for horses as well – full body ones that cover them from their face to their tail and around their belly.

  5. janelindskold Says:

    Nicholas: At first I thought the “date festival” was about, well, finding one’s significant other… I couldn’t figure out why all the Arabian stuff! Then, of course, you clarified for me.

    I’d love to see the camel and ostrich races! How great.

    Heteromeles: It sounds as if San Diego (which I love) and New Mexico do have a lot in common. We also have art shows aplenty. There is an entire buildign devoted to student art. There are three juried art shows (Fine Art, Indian Art, and Hispanic Art). This is also a gigantic building devoted to arts and crafts that includes everything from woodworking and stained glass to cooking and quilting. And Lego. And antique collecting… Gems and minerals. Stamp collecting. Bead work.

    It’s wonderfully stimulating.

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