Chickens are everywhere. In country front yards and suburban backyards, scratching up ticks and fertilizing lawns wherever they tread. Indeed, if my wife has her way there will be chickens littering the lawns at the Curry farm as well. Cowboy hats, once worn only with a huge dose of intended irony, are now gracing the domes of pretty housewives as they peruse the selections at the local farmstand. Free range this is in, and grass fed that, too. Farm dinners, previously only available to farmers who ate dinner, are now hosted by the most elite chefs, bringing their diners the complete farm to very-near-table experience. Country music, for years banished to the pickup trucks that tore only down gravel roads is now as likely to be found playing from the helm of a 302 Cobalt on Geneva Lake as it is to be blasted into the dusty cabin of a farmer’s tractor. Alan Jackson was right. The whole world has gone country.
And for this, I suppose we’re better off. I have found country living to be rather delightful, and at night I supremely enjoy scanning the surroundings of my property and seeing nary a single porch light from a neighboring house. Country living isn’t strange, it isn’t weird, it isn’t low class. It’s just pretty cool. If I do add chickens next year, it won’t be until after some protest. Don’t think I’m completely countrified, because farm animals might look pastoral while slowly grazing through a distant field, but in person they smell and they make horrible messes behind them. They are animals, domesticated if only sort of, and they are the reason that this weeks’ Walworth County Fair is something I approach with hesitation.
I enjoy eating, which is a statement so obvious, but I have never particularly relished fair food. I say that with the following disclosure: I rarely, if ever, go to the fair. The Walworth County Fair has some historical significance, as it is perhaps the oldest fair in all of this universe, though it may only be the oldest fair in Walworth County, I can’t say which. It also is the reason that schools in Walworth County traditionally start after Labor Day. It has nothing to do with the lake set, nothing to do with water at all. It has everything to do with the fair, and the notion from generations before mine that children needed to be off school so they could show their prize pig, or lamb, or so they could clean the straw beds for the prize Steer that father was bringing to the fair in hopes of finally winning some sort of ribbon, blue or otherwise. While Walworth County to me has everything to do with Geneva Lake, and it likely is the same for you, it may surprise you to know that the county as a whole is far, far more interested in whether or not Betsy-Lou can finally get some recognition for those darn good blueberry pies that she bakes.
I have a hard time walking down rows of animals. This is especially hard when the temperatures soar, as they are doing at the moment. These animals- ducks, chickens, rabbits, lambs, goats, etc and etc- are housed in large barns, with fans blowing from one end to the other. The barn smells like an earthy mix of straw and dampness, laced with the heavy breath of hot animals and their natural mementos. It is not my favorite place to be, but when your seven year old daughter wants to walk that walk, and smell those smells, well then this is what you do. There is other entertainment here too, though I generally suffer through a few barn walks and then buy ice cream and hoof it to the parking lot. Get it, hoof it? Because I’m at the fair?
Anyway. The other entertainment includes musical acts. Kenny Loggins, The Oak Ridge Boys, and the Beach Boys. They’ll all be here. Jerrod Neimann too, though I don’t know who he is. He has a song titled Shinin’ On Me, which I assume is a song about Kentucky Clear, which refers to a beverage that those guys with denim overalls make out of corn and sugar. It may have to do with the sun, but that’s a long shot. This is me glossing over the details of the activities available to Fair goers, but that’s how I approach the fair. I don’t think it’s best to go to the fair with anything particular in mind- not the Scarecrow Making Contest or the Great American Duck Races- it’s best to just come to the fair to breath it all in and bear witness to the event.
I will end up at the fair this weekend, if only for an hour or two. Fine, if only for an hour. I’ll do this sometime later on Saturday, and I’ll rue the heat and I’ll make faces at the smells, but I’ll leave better for it. The heart of this county, of this state, of this region, is not some shimmering body of crystal clear water that we all know and love. It’s actually the farmers, their cows, and their children who raise up lambs to be sold at the fair and then sob the whole way home when someone with a hankering for spit roasted lamb ends up the high bidder. Walworth County is rich in agricultural heritage, and once a year it’s a wonderful thing to pay our respects.