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).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Saturday: The Day Arrives

Saturday morning Dan was knocking on my bedroom door by 6:00 to roust me for the day's activities. We needed to spread table cloths, set out the flowers, and generally do all that last minute stuff. Dan started the day by welding two steel rods on the end of steel poles to make support stakes for an awning (originally a tarp with a grommet in the corner); but then the wind picked up and tore a grommet out of the tarp's corner, causing a heavy pole to crash to the ground. It wasn't a particularly warm day anyway, and we were relieved that the pole had chosen to miss everyone and everything around it (including the cake lady, who was trying to shield the cake from damage with her body), so we decided we didn't really need that awning anyway.

The pig roaster was supposed to to have had the pig on the coals before we were up, but Sara came out of the house around 6:00 and found him still asleep in the back of his van. I don't know exactly what she said to him, but he was sure doing his best to look busy and stay out of her way by the time I got there a few minutes later. We all thought it was good for her to have a constructive use for accumulated tension.

It must have helped, because she was absolutely calm when she came around the house a couple of hours later and quietly informed me that the pig was on fire. I ducked around the corner, and sure enough, 6' - 8' flames were rising from the roasting pit. The pig guy was just kind of crouched next to it looking thoughtful, as if he couldn't decide whether or not to break out his marshmallows. "Is it supposed to be?" I asked. "I don't think so," she answered. She had that resigned, placid tone people get when they have moved past their limit for deep emotional response and can only manage a stunned acknowledgement of events. It was actually pretty funny. But Dan said afterwards that only the really fatty parts (snout, hooves, ears, and other parts that weren't destined for the table anyway) were destroyed, and the raging fire might have helped catch up the cooking process after its late start. In any case, everyone later said the pig was delicious.

We got to the point around midmorning where everything was in good hands and we could gracefully retire to get cleaned up and dressed. We even managed a calm few moments for some "before" pictures before last minute details started to pop up. In spite of concerns, Mom got there in time to prepare the bouquets (although we forgot to have her do a boutonniere for Dan). Sara's bouquet included one of Grandma B's hankies as a "something old," and it looked great. Dan had some trouble with the tie we'd had made from the dress material, but he did a quadruple-Windsor knot (which we all though sounded more like a figure skating move) and snipped 4" off the tail end, and it looked fine. And away we went.

It was a very good day. I'd never attended a Unitarian service before, so it was interesting to hear a prayer which was not a call for help so much as an affirmation that the world is as it was meant to be. I couldn't help squeezing Dan's hand as Sara walked down the aisle, and there were tears of joy from several sources. For just a few hours, the world was exactly as it should be.

The reception band was excellent, and I especially enjoyed some sweet fiddle waltzes done by the matriarch of the group. I tried dancing with Dad a couple times, but confirmed once again that I was completely inept on the dance floor - and by my choice of partner, raised a suspicion that there might be a genetic component involved. But the other couples in the square dance laughed along with us, and the little girls capered around in their silk "butterfly wings," and everyone had fun, and all was well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Friday: The Preparations Reach a Crescendo

Friday morning bright and early, we were up and off on our day. Sara and I were to go pick flowers to be used in the wedding bouquets and table arrangements, while Dan and the rest of the crew were to supervise the placement of the tent, put the last of the equipment and aesthetically disapproved materials in the garage or behind a tarp or whatever, set up tables, and so on.

So we picked flowers. We stopped in town and picked out some small "thanks for coming" gifts for the flower girl, the nephews waiting patiently on the west coast, and a few others. I got to gorge myself on fried clams at the Fishnet, which was a truly fabulous experience. We delivered the flowers back to the house, and I quickly threw together some pasta and fresh tomatoes for all the crew running around who had clearly not recently enjoyed anything near so nice as fried clams. We went after grocery supplies for dinner. Dan and I popped down to the church to borrow some more tables. And then we joined in with the effort of running around some more.

The minister got there by late afternoon to run the wedding party through our paces. We figured out where we should stand so that everyone could see us, and put blue tape X's on the lawn to mark each spot. And we figured out we'd better trim one of the branches of the tree, rather than depending on Dan to duck consistently throughout the wedding.

Dan rigged a lobster pot over a burner made from a barrel, rebar, and a propane tank set-up. (To be precise, he rigged two, since the burner melted one of the lengths of rebar the first time around and caused the lobster pot to tip dangerously.) Don picked a bunch of corn from the garden, I put together some baked sweet onions, and Sara's mom showed up with some truly fabulous blueberry cake. We all sat back, and life was good.

We were eating "shedder" lobsters, which are a bit more loose in their shell and tend to be a bit more juicy. This can make for messy eating, and the process of snapping one critter open a stream of juice arced across the table and up into the air, with a little bit landing on Dad's glasses. Jeff pointed out that this was "why he wears a cap with a bill" - which had us all laughing.

And so we ate a little more, and drank a little more, and Dan played some music for us on his concertina, and it was a good night.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm back

I know I said I'd blog from Maine - but I have since then been re-acquainted with the wonders of a dial-up connection in a rural area where the only computer accessible to me is a Mac. I like Macs, in principle - just don't really know how to run them. I tried to upload one photo to photobucket over that dial-up connection, just to show folks how things went - and 20 minutes after that, I gave up and drank another cup of tea instead. Anyway, here's the short version:

Flew out of Milwaukee smoothly on Wednesday night, and got to Logan Airport earlier than planned. Love Midwest and their onboard warm cookies, love General Mitchell Airport, love Tasha for driving me down so I didn't have to deal with the whole parking thing - HATE Logan Airport. Don missed his plane in California and didn't get to Baltimore until about 10:30 that night. Add in the travel time to Boston and the extra few hours always attributable to any venture in which Mom is involved, and you have me sitting/ laying/ freezing/ crying/ moaning/ bitching at Logan for 9 freakin' hours overnight. (If I'd known, I would have gotten a hotel. But I honestly thought it wouldn't be more than half that time.)

I asked the guy at the information booth where would be a good, quiet, safe place for me to wait for a few hours, and he sent me to the children's play area. I later pleaded with the security guard for another option, and he said that the children's play area was the only place available overnight. But the center of the children's play area is dominated by a big kinetic sculpture reminiscent of the "build a better mousetrap" game, with little balls that roll down chutes, are lifted up chain-driven elevators, bang off gongs, roll through dangling chimes, jump into baskets, ring ships' bells, and generally make a cacophony of sound at unpredictable intervals. My fellow travelers (there were 5 or 6 of us in there by the end of the night) discussed taking up a collection to either bribe the guard to pull the plug, or to bail one of us out after we broke into the glass enclosure and did it ourselves - but somehow that never happened.

Instead, the lucky ones slept on cold steel benches under big yellow signs that read "Please, no sleeping. Play area." The rest of us were left trying to sleep across the black vinyl seats with immovable arms placed every butt-width, which left us with about a 4" wide strip of unencumbered sleeping area broken up by cold steel ridges of chair edge. And Logan seems to have a set temperature, which is somewhat comfortable when you have 20,000 or so people in the airport but which drops down so low overnight as to present a very real danger of hypothermia.

All in all, it was a wretched night. By the time Don & Mom finally picked me up on Thursday morning, I had (as Don put it) lost my sense of humor. But I got a little (very little) bit of sleep in the car as we headed north, and managed to let out only a restrained little "save me" when Dan greeted us with a hug in Brooksville.

But from there on out it was all good. More of the story (and more pictures) tomorrow.

P.S. Around dawn, a gentleman came in to the play area and quietly spread a prayer rug out in the far corner before pulling out his quaran and conducting a soft morning prayer service for himself. I hadn't expected muslim prayer to be so musical and soothing, and noticed that he turned the pages of his text from left to right like a Jewish scripture book. I think we're still in the holy month of Rammadan, which might have inspired an extra-long prayer; but he was busy for quite some time. It didn't occur to me until much later that some travelers might have been disconcerted to witness this kind of muslim piety in Logan Airport, where some of the 9/11 hijackers boarded their planes a little over 7 years ago. And then I had to have an argument in my head for a bit about freedom of religion vs. mass hysterical discrimination . . .