Sunday, September 2, 2012


Two rather large pigs NOT doing what you think they are doing!

A black cow being readied for display. This was had the shiniest coat, and when I petted her, I understood why.  She had been given a coat of some sort of oil to give her a shine.  

Two very sweet Nubian goats. If I had my druthers, I'd raise a goat in my back yard.  Very gentle creatures. 

A very large boar prancing around the judges. He was huge!

Meet Bubba, a friendly Clydesdale. This horse was very tall and beautifully proportioned. 

As a young teenager, I have fond memories of going to the Sacramento State Fair with a friend of my family.  Si would gather his daughter-in-law, Shirley, and her two children, and me and my three brothers, and head north from San Francisco to Sacramento.  Si would happily spend the day at the racetrack, away from his nagging wife who was always on him about gambling, while Shirley and I would ride herd on the kids, taking them on all the rides, visiting in the livestock, admiring the 4-H exhibits and drooling over the ribbon-winning cakes, breads, jams, and pickles. We would plow through the honkey-tonk of all those carney games of chance and skill--skeet ball, tossing a ball at a tower of faux-milk bottles, sinking basketballs in a net with the prize being a junky stuffed toy you'd be embarrassed to give your friend's kid. We would meet Si in time for the last race, then drive back, stopping in Santa Rosa for a swell dinner. It was just the kind of family outings we so rarely did as kids, and it left an enduring impression.

Forty-some years later, The Oregon State Fair is just winding up it's annual two-week stint in Salem, and I talked my friend, John Baker into a visit.  He'd never been to a state fair before.  We chose Friday feeling there might be less people to encounter over the busy Labor Day weekend. Good decision. We drove down to Salem around 9:30 am and arrived at the fair an hour later. It was still cool under a blue, cloudless sky and didn't get any higher than comfortable for the five hours we were there.

The variety of the goat's coats was fascinating. These gentle creatures are curious an friendly.

I want to make a home for her in my back yard. I wonder what Archie would think of her?

These two seemed very adept at posing for the camera

The first stop was to check out the animals--cows, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, guinea pigs. Row upon row of these creatures, most of them seemed happy to be well-fed, well-groomed and well-loved. Mostly tended to by teenagers, we'd get into a leisurely talk with a young man or woman and it was wonderful how well informed they were about their ranching lives. They could answer just about anything you could think of about the animal's well-being. I was astounded at the range of chickens, goats and rabbits. The goats were particularly fun to be around, especially a long-eared breed called Nubian.

This rooster had magnificent coloring on his feathers

I tried, but this magnificently plumed rooster resisted my every effort to get him to pose

The chickens were also fun with some very exotic varieties on view. It's a shame they weren't in pens rather than cages. The photos don't do them justice. Lots of people are raising chickens in their back yards in Portland. There are restrictions on the number of chickens you can have.  But they are messy and require lots of maintenance.  Maybe when I retired for good, but not now. But who wouldn't want fresh eggs on a regular basis. 

This is the evil ride that John talked me into. My stomach was turned inside out.

After more than an hour with livestock, we headed over to the carney section of the fair.  So many silly games of chance and skill to separate you from your money. I won't play because the prizes are so awful--mostly stuffed toys in garish colors. Or a plastic, air filled hammer, or some other junky nonsense. We didn't spend much time there for rides were on our minds. I wanted to do the Ferris Wheel and bumper cars. We did the Ferris Wheel (at a steep $4.50 for about five complete turns!). The average age of the kids on the bumper cars was about six, so I changed my mind. John got an evil glint in his eye and suggested this insane ride. A large merry-go-round-type of ride with swing-seats attached to chains that go up to the ceiling. You are locked into one of these seats and it raises and begins to spin, gathering speed. Suddenly you are thrown out sideways in circle after blurry circle of of spins while your chair whooshes and your turn and dip in a stomach-churning rotation that left me very queasy. I was grateful when it ended. And by the way, it cost $4.50 for that nausea-inducing ride!

The views from the relative calm of the far more civilized Ferris Wheel, were enjoyable instead the 
blur as seen from the precarious seat of the above mentioned ride. 

We went in search of a snack. John chose something called an elephant ear--a large, flat, fried piece of dough with cinnamon sugar sprinkled with a heavy hand as it cools--$5. It couldn't have cost 30 cents to make. I had forgotten State Fairs are a legal way of separating you from your money.  We walked through a garden, which was a riot of color, especially the lowly coleus plant that has the most spectacular display of colored leaves.  We walked through an artist gallery of pottery, jewelry, carved wood, and other crafts. I found a lovely wind chime of vertigreed copper with a humming bird. We stumbled upon an outdoor wine shop, where we tasted a pretty good glass of domestic Oregon rose made from Spanish Temperanillo grapes.  Most domestic rose is a bit too sweet, lacking that crisp and lean taste of the more famous Provencal rose. We sat at a shady table and just enjoyed the day as we sipped out wine.

The quilt-maker's art as stunningly realized here. How I would love to own this.

We then went to see crafts that were judged at the Fair. I wasn't too impressed with the cakes and breads that were on display. The cakes in particular lacked imagination and some looked like bad entries in a Food Channel cake-baking competition.  I was more interested in hooked rugs, and the quilts. Here are two spectacular hand-made quilts that have nothing to do with grandma's handiwork. These were sophisticated examples that begged to be hung on display in a family room.

Or this subtle beauty. Can you imagine the hours spent creating this masterful quilt?

At this point, we were ready for lunch. We didn't want pizza, a hot dog (or a corn dog), or any of the other junk on display. We stopped at a barbecue place and selected smoked sausage on a rather overly large and soft bun that dwarfed the sausage. John had mustard with his while I chose barbecue sauce. Again, we found a shady spot without having to fight the crowds for a seat. Tonight the hoards would be come to see live bands perform. For now, the fair had a manageable number of attendees--nobody was running over your feet with a baby stroller. Nice.

It was time to take a look at the 4-H entries. I'm always astonished at the talent of young people. The art and photography exhibit was prodigious in its entrants. Who knew kids could have such compositional eyes at this tender young age. The baked goods were far more impressive than the adult entries. As we  moved our way through the exhibit, you couldn't fail to not be impressed with the science projects, books, furniture, sewing samples, and other craft work on display. Made me wonder why more kids aren't raised on farms.

The only low-point was a large area devoted to modern amenities and products such as mattresses, hoses, mops, cleaning products, cookware and other house-hold products. What made it unpleasant was the sight of a George Romney for President recruitment booth, and right next to it, some "right-to-life" booth with plastic representations of fetus' at various stages of growth. It was offensive and out-of-place in a state fair, which should not be used for making political statements. But I forget it is Salem, Oregon, which is not only the state capital, but a hotbed of Republican thinking. In fact most of the state is very, very conservative, and were it not for more left-leaning Ashland, the college towns of Eugene and Corvallis, and the big-city progressive-thinking Portland, Oregon would be a tea party state, through and through. I forget we live in a bubble here in Portland.

The ponies are well-cared for and very shy.

Our final destination was the horses. We had seen a few Clydesdales in the morning, but there were ponies, an quarter horses to view. We got to a competition area where we admired Clydesdales in surreys, looking resplendent in their finery. Most were black or dark brown but I found one tan Clydesdale who stood out from the pack. The ponies were adorable, and I might have tried to get a ride on a pony-riding group, but I feared my weight would be onerous.

Coleus in all their summer glory

The Oregon State Fair is smaller than its California counterpart. I wish in a state that prides itself on the quality of its food, there had been more representative vegetables on display or a more creative way to showcase them other than behind hot display cases that made everything look a bit wilted. Vegetables were particularly affected with wrinkled skins. Why isn't there a farmers market attached where people could bring home the bounty of the canner's art such as preserves and jellies, pickles and other vegetables, whole fruits in syrup? With all this baking, why not carry home a pie or a fine loaf of bread? Or a bucket of peaches? Isn't there a way to gently combine commerce and state pride, reduce the number of junk food stands and sell real food? 

Even without a racetrack, it was wonderful to see kids engaged with their animals, which to me, is the highlight of any state fair. The livestock just fascinate and captivate people. They linger to pet a gentle lamb or giggle at either the laziness or rambunctious activities of the pigs. Best of all, the Fair mostly met the nostalgic pictures in my head from my youth. I won't do it every year, but if you haven't taken in a state fair, it's a very pleasant way to spend a few hours on a lazy summer weekday. 

Two teenagers grooming a lamb

No this isn't Uncle Barney's abandoned toupee--it's a Guinea Pig!

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