All’s fair at Field Days

Summer is not over yet, despite the cruelty of retailers who are now hanging banners in their windows with four of the scariest words any 8-year-old (or schoolteacher!) has ever read: Back-to-School Sale. We are barely a sixth of the way through August, which means Labor Day is still a month in the distance.
And how long is four weeks? It is four times the life span of some butterflies.
Moreover, August is the very best month of the year if you like fried dough, roller coasters, cows with good dairy quality, and pumpkins the size of Volkswagens. It is county fair season in Vermont, beginning this Tuesday morning when the sugarhouse and children’s barnyard open at the Addison County Fair and Field Days.
Even though we are a digital world of iPods and text messages and presidential debates that revolve around Youtube, the county fair still matters in Vermont. The crowds still come; people still quilt; and gardeners still compete. More than 40,000 of our neighbors will visit Field Days in the coming week.
To get a sense of the true importance of the county fair in the digital age, I went to an expert on Field Days: Lincoln’s Spencer Prescott. Prescott is 8 and a half years old, and that means he has almost a decade of experience with county fairs — though, of course, he has spent a sizable part of his time at Field Days in diapers and his memories thus might be a little suspect. Of course, I am in my mid-40s and heaven knows my memories are a little suspect. So, far be it from me to impugn Prescott’s wisdom simply because he will only be in the third grade next month.
The point is, Prescott knows what works at the fair, and he knows what he likes. “I wish every day could be Field Days,” he told me, before offering a long litany of why he looks forward to this time of year. His favorite part of the fair? “The rides and the games and the maple cotton candy and the horses. I like to see the appaloosas, and why some horses win more awards than others.”
That’s the thing about Field Days this week or, later this month, the Champlain Valley Fair in Essex Junction: There is a lot going on. Rides and sheep-shearing and food that should come with a warning from the Surgeon General, but is absolutely irresistible in once-a-year-doses. (Exhibit A? The Onion Blossom.) There is something for everyone. My mother-in-law is never going to risk vomiting back a funnel cake on the Tilt-a-Whirl with her granddaughter (that’s my job), but she will be hypnotized by the crafts and the quilts. My sister-in-law may not ride horses seriously, but — like Spencer Prescott — she can appreciate the majesty of Bill Roleau’s magnificent Belgian draft horses. And I will always be awed by a pumpkin so big that it needs a trailer to haul it from the patch to the park, even if pumpkins that big have rinds that look like the skin on a leprous troll.
For most of the two-plus decades I have lived in Vermont, we have worried about the demise of our agrarian heritage. As a people, we have rued the changing landscape. Certainly those fears are founded.
But we should also take comfort in the continued vitality of the county fair, and the way that even now the August sky is alight with the vibrant colors of the midway and the August afternoon is filled with the impressive displays of the 4-H Clubs — with blue ribbons and yellow corn. It’s not merely that the county fair is a celebration of an integral aspect of the Vermont ethos: It’s that the county fair is, as Spencer Prescott reminds us, absolutely massive amounts of fun.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 5.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “All’s fair at Field Days

  1. JerseyGal says:

    This lovely description of the Vermont Country Fair puts me in mind of all that is truly most wonderful in this blighted world of ours: simple pleasures deeply savored. Blue skies, sticky cotton candy and lots of livestock (I’m serious, by the way). And, crude! It makes the wimpy, country fair of my county look extremely deficient, but, well, New Jersey can’t compete with Vermont. It’s embarrassing we are even called: The Garden State. (Well, I guess we have some other…um…nicknames too).

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