Sunday, September 18, 2011

Down to Earth

In September the country fall fairs are ubiquitous; and while the choice is extensive I was however especially intrigued by the recent newspaper advertisements for the Middleville Fair. I have often passed through Middleville en route to Lanark and in so doing I have noticed the eye-catching agricultural grounds whose very old buildings bear the remnants of the signs of fairs gone by. Additionally Middleville is on pleasingly high ground and charmingly small enough to provide what I expected would be a more intimate experience than some of the larger fairs held closer to the limits of the City of Ottawa. As it turned out an added and unpredictable feature of this year’s fair in Middleville was the superlative weather on Saturday. The skies were crystal clear, light blue, blazing sunshine yet it was cool enough to invite the sporting of a wool sweater from one’s erstwhile secreted wardrobe.

We were by no means the first to arrive at the fair. We drove there from Almonte along the delightful ribbon of highway which winds through Lanark Highlands. As we rose up the hill towards Middleville, we observed there were already many, many cars parked nearby the agricultural grounds on either side of the road leading into the Village. We parked alongside the road as well, satisfied to hoof it the short distance to the fair grounds. As we approached the entrance to the grounds, I saw there was an adjacent field on the far side of the road which had been transformed into a parking lot, identified by pink luminescent cones. Located there in a cluster nearest the road were several antique tractors, loudly chugging in idle, swarmed by curious on-lookers and fellow collectors. At the entrance to the grounds we were greeted by an affable ruddy-faced member of the local Agricultural Society who was outfitted with an apron containing change and tickets. From him we purchased our two tickets at five dollars apiece then launched ourselves onto the grounds as though passing through a curtain of time.

Abstracted, the fair experience, apart from the gleeful repartee among the participants and the visitors, is about animals and food. It bears note that there is a rudimentary element to the exposure, a disarming levelling so to speak. One is after all tromping about upon grassy fields or upon historic pine floors in equally primitive board buildings. The focus is upon substance (though I confess the quaint environment is charismatic). The food, whether garden produce, baked goods or maple syrup, is naturally tempting (I wondered to myself how many of the First Prize cookies had been stealthily removed from below their plastic wrap). The animals – whether caged, corralled or haltered – were universally on display. There was no question of the dominion of mankind over their future, whether as beasts of burden or tomorrow’s dinner. The sharpness of this pointed detail was deflected somewhat by a rollicking children’s game involving the attempt to career squealing piglets into a stall from an adjoining fenced area, but I couldn’t help notice a piddling piglet which was obviously totally stressed by the experience.

A collateral feature to the fall fair is the presence of local artisans displaying their particular wares for sale. One such person was a local potter who is a fixture at the Almonte Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings in the library parking lot. Here in Middleville we discovered not only the potter but also his lady and several common friends. The congregation immediately erupted into a blend of warm embraces and sweet trivialities, accompanied by polite enquiries after one’s health and reflections upon the most agreeable weather.

One of the outbuildings of the grounds was dedicated to the dining experience, beginning with breakfast for the early risers, followed by lunch and at last the turkey supper for which tickets went on sale at 2:30 p.m. amidst what I understand to be hot competition for the early sitting at 4:30 p.m. Several of those whom we met at the fair indicated that they were intent upon reliving this popular annual event.

As entertainment there was dressage populated as usual by mostly young girls mounted in full gear upon their much loved horses and ponies. On the extremities of the grounds were young farmers parading their groomed and glistening livestock under the serious scrutiny of a judge. The participants carried with them a crop if needed to encourage the animal.

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