Later this week I will be facing one of my toughest decisions of the summer: Do I begin my visit to Addison County Fair and Field Days with a maple creemee or a maple doughnut?
That’s right, Tuesday marks the start of the high season for county fairs and festivals here in Vermont, an opportunity for us all to celebrate pumpkins the size of Mini Coopers — pumpkins for which the word brobdingnagian was invented — carnival rides that allow us to scream louder than jet engines, and the good-natured willingness of 4-H kids to shovel cow manure. Horse manure. Sheep manure.
And, of course, there are the bread-and-circus spectacles of the tractor pulls and the demolition derby. (Just for the record, you have to have a valid driver’s license to participate in the demolition derby. This is called irony.)
I’m a big fan of Field Days. My wife is, too. We both look forward to it — and to the Champlain Valley Fair a little later this month — because calories don’t count if you consume them in a place so wholesome that there’s a children’s barnyard or a Ferris wheel. Besides, there’s always the chance I just might give back a few of those calories.
I remember one lovely night at Field Days when my daughter was between second and third grade. I had brought her and a friend of hers there and just taken them on the flying swings — that ride in which you sit in a swing and are twirled in wide circles about twenty feet off the ground until either the ride ends or you spew vomit like a fire hose. Prior to climbing into my seat I had been to the sugar house, which is the greatest building on earth, and gorged like I was in a Major League Eating competition.
When I stood on the ground again a few minutes later, I was greener than the grass. So, I suggested to my daughter and her friend that they go stand in line for another ride, and then I collapsed. I was actually deciding whether (and where) I should vomit, when two very nice women who said they were “huge” fans of my work stood before me. I was charming for about a minute, but when it was clear they weren’t going to leave, I realized I had to be honest and tell them there was a pretty good chance I was going to get sick on their sandals if they didn’t retreat. They did. Any day now, they will — as they do annually — wish me well on Facebook as fair season commences.
To be honest, I do not simply love Field Days because I view it as a chance to gorge like a Roman emperor. I love Field Days for all the reasons I’m supposed to love the fair: It’s a PG throwback to agrarian Vermont. And the only reasons I give it a PG rating rather than a straight G are the demolition derby and the occasional NC-17 tattoos that add a little extra spice to the carnies and the crowds. But this week my wife and I will savor the racing pigs and the marvelous mutts and the animal costume competition. We will celebrate the Morgan horses and the sheep shearing. We will ride the Ferris wheel and grow a little quiet, a little moved, at the deeply astonishing views of Addison County from the top. We will enjoy the phantasmagoric lights – blues that are neon, yellows that are luminescent, and reds that make an autumnal maple look washed-out and tired – along the midway after the sun has set.
It’s all a little magic. How magic? Field Days gives us the remarkable gift of a second childhood. One again, we are all kids at the fair.
And you know what? When I first arrive at the sugar house, it probably won’t be an either/or decision when I am greeted by the intoxicating aroma of maple. After all, Field Days comes but once a year. I may allow myself both a maple creemee and a maple doughnut, thank you very much.
I’ll just be sure and ride those swings first.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on August 3, 2014. Chris’s new novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” was published last month.)