How Fair Is Our Fair?

The fairest of course! The Anderson Valley Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show is the “Mother of all Mendocino County People Watching Events.” If you missed it this year come with me on a selective tour.

I was a full 15 minutes late Sunday and ended up driving right through the parade in the opposite lane of traffic on my way to a parking spot at the High School. As I passed Kathy and Jerry Cox who had staked out primo shady spots with folding chairs on the terrace at the Boonville Hotel I could see that they had a better idea. Steve Sparks did the announcing this year and a fine job it was. A high point in the parade for me was honoring Grand Marshals Paul and Vera Titus whose list of community contributions is staggering. Lots of vibrant and vibrating AV youth rode in the parade making a happy noise and dancing to the music including the AV Scouting Program, the AV Jr. and Varsity Football teams with Cheerleaders, the AV Dance Team, AV Youth Football, and AV young “Gypsies.”

I entered the fairgrounds getting a hand stamp, a program book and a welcome from a multicultural trio of alert young men — one black, one brown, one white. My first stop was the Hall of Flowers, that cool and fragrant oasis that the Garden Section of the Unity Club coordinates. Much to my delight I found that I had won “Best of Show” in the flower arrangement category for “Elegance” that I put together with purple/blue delphiniums, unusual pale green/rose tinged hydrangeas and peacock feathers from Rosemary Robert’s incredible garden in Philo. Cindy Hollinger got “Best of Show” for her wonderful Shade garden “Reflections in the Garden.” Other standouts were Julie Winchester with her amazing shiny succulent “tree” and Joanie Clark with the best succulent collection. All-In-The-Family flower arrangers were mom Jennifer Peters with her clever “The Drawing Room” arrangement and daughters Shasta who arranged “Sweet and Low” and Sierra who did “Tea for Two.” as did Hannah Newcomer. Zacharias Wagner did a lovely “A Tisket-a-Tasket” in a basket as did Carina Ocampo who won Junior “Best of Show.” There were many otherworldly looking begonias which got my vote as science fiction flowers for their neon colors and fleshy petals. The concentration that is shown by flower gazers who visit the Hall of Flowers is inspiring. Beauty worshippers are a breed apart. They almost seems to inhale what there are looking at so intent and appreciative is their gaze and their ranks includes both men, women, young and old. Buster Posey (the kitten) visited the flowers in his lunch box sized cat carrier with his mom Beth. He came out to be petted and his tiny cute self was oohed and ahhed at by many including Debbie Squires.

Moving back to the animal barns I saw Nubian goats whose carefully groomed coats looked and felt like sleek suede. Goats must be specially presented — instead of clunky leads and harnesses they each have only a thin chain necklace that the owner holds while walking them for the judges. Winning ribbons are tucked nonchalantly into the back pockets of goat owners where they flutter saucily. I noticed that some goats have fancy feeding bags made out of stitched nylon while others simply have slit feed bags with hay hanging out — quite a practical solution.

Moving on to the poultry and rabbit barn where most of the junior contestants can be found, Beth Swehla and Terry Gowan were both there with the kids they mentor. Kids were seen in their usual crisp white outfits with either the green of 4H or the navy blue of Future Farmers of America. Why all the white? Well, it looks great but it also promotes mindfulness, a useful tool later in life. Watching kids hold chickens and rabbits is a lot of fun. The beautiful feathers and colors are in such contrast to the ugly scratchy legs that stick out of chicken bodies. The way they caress their animals to keep them calm while they are waiting to be judged is very sweet and actually kind of hypnotic. The kids themselves tend to get a slightly glazed over look as they wait patiently for their turn with the judge. Watching a showmanship competition can be surprisingly earthy as they tell the judge “My rabbit is a boy” and proceed to demonstrate the fact by flipping their bunny over pointing out all his unmistakable boyish features. There are a lot of very grounded things that happen when kids manage livestock. Animals keep eating, pooping and generally behaving on their own agendas — not a virtual kind of a job. “The ruby-eyed buck is the winner” — a white rabbit with red eyes to me. Terry G. is in charge of all the rabbit proceedings. Her daughter Natalia was competing with her rabbit who I think was large and black and beautiful. Alondra and Esmeralda Espinoza entered their mini rex rabbits, as did Emmy Barragan. I saw tiny rabbits with short ears called Netherland Dwarfs that are easy for small hands to manage and are bred by the Rockin’ Ridge Rabbitry. If you win a rabbit competition you might win a portable chair to take to shows and sit in while you wait around or a soft rabbit handling blanket. Lisette Eligio and Citlaly Correa won best of breed with their Polish rabbits. Beth won reserve champion percentage with one of her meat goats and champion with one of her pure breds.

I wonder if you took a poll in prisons how many would say they had been in 4H or FFA? I’m thinking not very many. Just outside the animal barns the Fire Departments, Sheriff and Search and Rescue had their booths. AV Fire Chief Colin Wilson had his fire hose and he was giving some kids their very first taste of being a water rat. One little girl was so small she could barely toddle and when the water first hit her it took her breath away but she kept coming back for more over and over again. I told her dad: she is tough. He told me she was only 10 months old! I was impressed by the young parents of little kids who were really letting them have a great time while making sure they stayed safe. Watching Colin was almost as fun as watching the kids — what a softie our fire chief is.

Speaking of softies, our balloon lady really outdid herself this year. I caught her surrounded by gigantic and elaborate strollers that look like royal coaches. I think a booth selling plumes for the strollers would do really well, but I digress. There were octopus headdresses, butterfly wings, swords with scabbards — I even saw one child with white balloons wrapped around her head forming a “cloud” that a “rainbow” of multi-colored balloons arched over making her a rainbow-head (perfect for Mendocino County). What a trooper the balloon lady is with her green wig, long sleeved shirt, vest, tights and bloomers on a hot, hot day.

On to the Hall of Fibers where the sheep shearer on the stage told us he has probably sheared 1500 sheep this year “which isn’t anything because a good shearer can do 100 sheep a day.” Sitting next to the big bags of fleeces enjoying a slight cooling breeze I also enjoy that lanolin saturated smell that comes off the fleece. It has a calming effect on me and I bet I’m not the only one. The Fiber Hall is a lot like a giant Hen House filled with plump friendly hens. I talked with a nice man and his son from Pinole who have been making spinning wheels and other spinning devices since 1970; their company is named Clemes & Clemes. I decided that they must be the roosters. A man with a tiny baby in a snuggly came in with his wife; the baby was three weeks old. I said he was the youngest visitor but they told me they met another couple at the fair with a two-day-old girl! The Hall of Fiber is truly a refuge and I’ve been told that we can thank Dave Gowan for that as he originally set it up so that the Fiber Fair comes at Fair time, a truly perfect pairing.

The Arts and Crafts building held an abundance of riches this year. The quilts were spectacular including a first prize for Grace Minton and a fabulous traditional big quilt called “Hot Cross Buns” by June Lemons. Speaking of quilts, the Yorkville quilt raffle was won by my neighbor Denie Dudzik and the artist’s quilt made by Laura Fogg and Deana Apfel for Hendy Woods was won by Valerie Hanelt. Congratulations on winning real heirlooms. Susan Bridge-Mount got a third for her very original jacket. Also in the Arts and Crafts building 1st prizes for Anne Fashauer’s bundt cake and biscuits, Joanie Clark’s Pineapple Upside down cake, Dan Richert’s awesome apple pie and iced Devil’s food cake by Mitzi Wagner. Julie Winchester’s cashew brittle got a first. Most heartbreaking photo award goes to the Gorilla in the SF Zoo by Jona Saxby with its close to human intelligence shining out of eyes so trapped and sad. Mary Darling’s Sunrise in Boonville is beautiful. Regine Schwenter-Lipp’s watercolors are subtle and wonderful as are Sony Hatcher’s. Christian Hernandez’s Aztec Warrior and Sacrificial Maiden are striking. Congratulations to Seasha Robb for her Best of Show photo of an Ornery Old Cat. Rainbow Hill’s pendant and Judy Nelson’s flame were “At the Fair” firsts — lovely.

This barely scratches the surface of what I saw and loved. Who was at the fair? Everyone. I spotted Donna Pierson-Pugh and her husband Jeff working at the pie booth, Bill Holcomb was driving the Grand Marshals, Frank Wyant was directing traffic and serving beer for the Lions, Cecilia Pardini was in the office doing everything and Fair Manager Jim Brown was outside the office doing everything, Jo Gowan made the apples and Pat Hulbert made the pies, Janice was at the wine booth knocking herself out for hours on end so all us wine lovers could have a taste, Deanna and Janet were at the Hendy Booth, Bruce, Mark and Steve were at the AVA booth, Robin Harper, Barbara Scott, and Debra Saarsgard were at the Hall of Flowers, scoutmasters Mitzi and David Wagner were with their two adorable grandchildren relaxing in the Ag building, Kay Jablonski and Guy Rowe asked me if I have sighted any black bears in Yorkville (not yet) and I saw a hardworking fairground worker using his own body as a bungee web to hold an overflowing load of garbage bags onto his motorized cart. On and on and on it goes.

At the end of the day the Lamb Palace was emptying out and I was imagining what it must have been like when the Anderson Valley really was a major sheep ranching place. A nippy breeze started to blow — a chilling reminder that the end of summer really had arrived. Fair is over for another year.

PS. What I overheard at the Fair: “All infants look like Dwight D. Eisenhower.” “There are as many personalities in sheep as there are in people,” and my personal favorite, “Ya gotta getcher corn dog on Friday before the oil goes stale.” — Jay Newcomer. See you at the Fair next year!

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