On the Common Ground Fair
It was gray and gloomy on Sunday at the Common Ground Fair, but that didn’t stop about four billion people from going. Even heading down Route 220 in Unity at 10 in the morning, early, I thought (duh), the traffic was slow: turning onto the road to the MOFGA fairgrounds, I found the cars barely moving at all. In the end I made it through the gate and ended up parking in the very last row in the field, late to meet my friend Lisa and her daughter Mia. Or so I thought. Fortunately, the driving gods had seen fit to give Lisa travel amnesia, and she ended up going the wrong way, so she was late, too.
The Common Ground Fair is always held on the third weekend after Labor Day, and for many years now it has made its permanent home in Unity (this after moving about a bit in central Maine). It’s the showcase of the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association, and features arts, crafts, vegetables, performances, sheep dog trials and food from all over the state. Though it takes place not fifteen miles from my house, I have rarely gone in the past few years, as I’ve been tied up with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance fall writing retreat. However, MWPA has moved the date back this year, so I was able to make plans to meet up with Lisa. Our initial goal: the Fiddle Fest.
Mia, Lisa’s teenaged daughter, is a fiddler, though she wasn’t planning on playing at the fair. Several of her friends were, however, and as I’m a sucker for a good bit of fiddling, meeting up with them to have a look sounded mighty appealing. We all eventually found each other on the wide loop of the fairgrounds
and then made our way to the tent where the fiddlers–and a ukulele player!–were going at it. Some, like Mia’s friends, were young and enthusiastic; others, like a woman who had come down from Cape Breton Island, were older but still enthusiastic. Each participant was given time for a song or two before ceding the stage to the next. The program was full of reels, which was fine with me, and apparently nearly everyone else in the tent: though chairs were provided, most of the audience was standing, some tapping feet, some dancing a bit on the hardwood floor. Lisa is secretly a dancer, but not secretly enough for Mia; even the little bit of jigging we were doing in the back was embarrassing for her. (I so enjoy embarrassing teenagers, and apparently Lisa does, too: another reason to love her.)
Where to go after that? I have always had a soft spot for sheep dog trials (one of our dogs is a border collie, rescued from the pound at 12 years old; she herds cats and children, as we have no sheep), but as always, I was in the right place at the wrong time. However, Lisa and I agreed that there’s always something enticing about artfully displayed vegetables, so we ambled along in the cheerfully gloomy morning (Mia and her friends, in the way of teenagers, abandoned us as soon as possible) toward the farmers’ market. We sampled some cheeses at the Longfellow’s Creamery stand, both hard and soft. Nearby, a man was roasting peppers in a roaster that looked as though it was powered by a jet engine: the smell was gorgeous. However, even though–or perhaps because–I am such a hapless gardener, I was attracted by display after display of fruits and vegetables.
The colors. The sheer abundance. The way some people can make beauty out of what for me would end up as a haphazard pile of food. Behind the booths were the demo plantings, and I must say that they were lovely and caused me to feel incredible pain when I thought of my own patch of unkempt tillage, which always yields bushels of accidental potatoes and not much else. I
admired a display of beets and boxes of various tomatoes; Lisa fell in love with some turnips. Garlic seemed to be the crop of choice for many of the vendors. Just looking at the food led us into a discussion of cooking–and eating–vegetables in all their incarnations. Had I a market basket and all the money in the world,
I could easily have gone wild among the veggies. Heck, I could have just eaten them raw. Instead we poked and peered and talked to a few people (Lisa knows many many people), eventually getting away from the Farmers’ Market and into the craft areas. Bags, hats, assorted clothing, hand-printed cards, soap, woodwork. Everything. All the way around the loop until we hit the food vendors…and then it was time for argument. What to eat? Lisa wanted me to choose; I wanted her to. We ended up at a Greek stand which had a corn maze to keep the lines straight; Lisa wandered along the path leading to the falafel, while I went in the direction of the
lamb-filled gyros. We met once again outside the maze, near the tahini, then wandered along dripping cucumbers and peppers in our paths. Eventually we met up again with Mia, who’d snagged an Italian sausage, then we stood around being messy together.
I had to take my leave soon after, finding the exit out by the artistically arranged vegetables, because a thrilling afternoon of grading Beowulf essays awaited me at home (another story for another time). However, I left Lisa and Mia in the hands of yet another bunch of people they knew. They probably never even noticed when I left. I think Lisa was dancing. I think Mia was pretending not to know her.
I’ve never had a gyro before. I’ve never had tahini before. I’m glad I have friends like Lisa who can show me what I’m missing in my frightfully circumscribed life. I have had the chickpea experience, and mashed, fried and otherwise, they are not among my favorites. So I’m glad at the corn maze I got in the wrong line. Gyros rock. I love cucumbers! Next time I’m putting more tahini on mine, though.