October 8, 2010 – “Does it have a freak show?” That’s the question I ask whenever someone suggests to me a fair or carnival worth attending. Unfortunately, with one exception many years ago, the answer has always been, “no.” But I often end up going anyway, at least for the past few years, especially if it takes place in Autumn. I’m not completely sure why. I don’t have much nostalgia for these things, so it’s not like I’m trying to reclaim a childhood. Actually, scratch that. I think I might be trying to reclaim Ray Bradbury’s childhood.
The Deerfield Fair in Deerfield, NH, does not have a freak show, but this four-day-long fair that took place last week in Deerfield, NH , was suggested to my wife and I so many times over the past month that we decided to check it out. Camel spinal surgeries are expensive, by the way.
One of the oldest fairs in New England, Deerfield Fair began its annual celebration in 1876 and has held it in every one of the years since. Meaning this simple collection of cow stalls and tilt-a-whirls has more history than some countries. That’s pretty awesome and visiting the fair was probably the closest I’ll ever come to participating in an ancient ritual. I really need to become Catholic, I think.
Just judging by the eight miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic that we had to conga along to enter the fair and the gigantic parking fields that probably contorted quite a few kids’ ideas of where cars come from, Deerfield Fair pretty big. Again, I don’t have stats on that, just vast fields of cars ready to be harvested.
As you’d expect from a 134-year-old fair, Deerfield has a large agricultural component. That meant lots of farm equipment on display, both antique and modern, but, more importantly, it meant a few gross tons of barn animals.
In fact, there were so many farm animals that they had separate buildings for each species. There was the sheep building, outside of which they were giving shearing demonstrations. There was the alpaca building, which also sold skeins of alpaca yarn. There was the small animal building, which contained baby ducks, rabbits, and the violently grasping hands of children.
There was the pig building, complete with fake Charlotte’s Web spider web proclaiming “Some Pig”. There was the poultry building, which showcased more chicken species than I knew (when they’re fried, they all look the same). There were also buildings for cows and horses, and I might have randomly seen a donkey at some point, but I’m not sure because that’s my favorite hallucination.
The animals were all in small stalls, within easy reach of the Coleoidean nightmare of feverishly petting hands. The buildings were pretty crowded and part of me felt sorry for all the animals (not sure which part, but when I do, it’s -ectomy time). But then I thought, farm animals are farm animals. They’re probably content with just not being eaten for another day. And that’s an attitude we can all learn from.
The fair also featured a tiny zoo with animals whose names you don’t get to throw at your spell checker but maybe once in your life so I’m going to do that here: serval, coati. Ha. Squiggly red lines all around. There were also animals whose names actually give you a mental image, like pythons and kangaroos and some small species of monkey.
Once our hands were covered in animal hair and saliva, we went to check out the food. Autumn fairs are particularly excellent in this regard since so many great foods are both in season and freshly harvested: cotton candy, funnel cakes, caramel apples. I might have missed them since there was a ton of vendors, but I didn’t see any obscenely strange foods of the sort that the media loves to report on since it’s apparently a yearly revelation that any food can be fried or shoved on a stick.
Once we were heavy-laden with carnival food, we got to practice our simultaneous walking and eating skills, which I fervently believe will come in handy at some point in the future when we all get so fat that we’re forced to outlaw the sitting position under any circumstances.
One of the places we walked to was an arena-type enclosure. There were a few of these scattered around throughout the fairgrounds, which, according to the schedule variously featured such acts as tractor pulls, pig scrambles, demolition derbies, and other similarly named events of the sort that I’m proud to have a lifelong streak running of never saying aloud. However, the only thing going on while we were there was a more civilized equestrian show. Dear Diary, horses jumping over things is terrifying up close.
And then there were the carnival rides. Unfortunately, it was just me, my wife, and our 10-month-old daughter, so there was no arrangement of us that would allow any of us to go on any of the rides. Neither one of use would go by ourselves, nor could we take the baby on one. It was like that riddle where a farmer has to take a chicken, fox, and bag of feed across a river without any of them getting eaten. Except in our case, we didn’t solve it. We just gave up and let everybody feast on the shore. Had there been a solution, I would definitely have jumped on the haunted ride, every one of the multiple funhouses, and anything that spun really, really fast and was put together only days before with ill-fitting crescent wrenches.
So despite their being no freak shows, the Deerfield Fair had plenty to do besides just walking a midway, eating, and leaving. I mean, any day you can have chips on a stick, see a kangaroo, watch a sheep-shearing, and learn that maple-syrup cotton candy tastes like campfire-burnt marshmallows is still a day well spent, no matter what the rate of exchange.