Friday, September 26, 2008

The Common Ground Fair

I have wanted to attend the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine, for years. Dan's been telling me all about the exhibits, the fabulous handcrafted items for sale, and just the wonder of it all. I even have a framed print of the 2004 fair artwork in my living room, just for inspiration. On Sunday, my last full day in Maine, I got to go. And oh my goodness, was it neat!

The first thing I saw as we walked through the managed forest was an 8-mule hitch plowing a field. It was really amazing to watch them work, and I was even more impressed when Carl looked at my photos and explained that all 8 were working with only one evener bar. For those who have no idea what that means (that would be me), all of these mules were working in concert within a web of lines. If they hadn't been as well trained and managed as they were, it would have been easy for one of them to get fouled in the lines and bring the whole crew to a tangled halt. But they pulled along steadily to the end of the row, and then the old guy running the show from behind talked to them for a bit. I heard "gee" and a whole lot of other stuff, and the mules looked around for a bit with an expression like, "Is he talking to you? I don't think he's talking to me . . . ." But before long he had them spun around 180° and headed back down the row, and I was amazed to see that he was lined up perfectly - not even an inch off the edge of the row he'd just finished. Someone leaned over to me quietly and said, "I think he's done this before." It was a really impressive display of control over the animals and equipment, not to mention a fine example of why mules were so important to the development of this country.

And there were tents of wool and other fibers being judged, and a wealth of vendors selling wonderful handspun. (I may have indulged just a bit in this.) Basketweaving, quilting, braided rugs - it was all there. Copious amounts of food, including several opportunities for maple sugar. Exhibits of how canvas and regular wooden canoes were built, and a demonstration of the lifestyles of the voyageurs. Political booths everywhere, leaning generally left. A cobbler, waiting to make shoes to your order. A demonstration of herding dogs doing their thing, with runner ducks of all creatures. (Dan says they tend to train dogs with ducks, because the potential loss isn't as great if the dog makes a fatal mistake. In any case, I wish I'd had help like that back when I had ducks!)

I could have spent weeks at this place. They actually farm the land in between fairs, so there are some beautiful displays of row crops and such in between the vendors and other temporary stuff. And Dan and Sara had me pick out an absolutely stunning woven silk & wool poncho from the Eggemoggin Textiles booth as a thank you gift. I felt absolutely elegant in it - and that doesn't happen to me too often.

A wonderful end to a wonderful trip, right up to the shuttle ride back to the parking lot in a cart pulled by a vintage tractor. The next day I headed back to Wisconsin, stopping along the way for one last binge of fried clams. Logan airport was freezing cold again, but I had my beautiful poncho - and back behind security, there are armless benches which can be almost comfortable (especially if you've had a pre-flight decongestant and a beer).

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