Friday, July 17, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation - part 2: Oregon Country Fair

For years, Fair was the hub that my year circled around, the one weekend a year that I got to live in the world as it could be, the closest I've come to the world I want to live in... Tourists at the Fair don't see the structure that allows it to happen, but for all the just-growed-ness of the organisation, it is the safest sanest city I've ever visited. There are thousands of residents that make it a temporary home for the weekend, vendors and entertainers and staff, and then there are the additional thousands that come as visitors, (this year I heard there were 19,000 through the gate).

My first Fair was in 1985, and there have been many changes over the last twenty-four years. I remember before the fair owned their site, before the water system, before wristbands and capped attendance. I worked Security for years, at the main entrance from midnight to six. I met Bill there one year; coming through the entrance he sold me a fibula and the story of my life turned, again. There were several years where I worked both my security shift and helped with selling jewelry during the day (sleep, what sleep, I'll sleep when I'm dead), and several more years (after I gave up my Security volunteering) when I was Bill's "lovely lady assistant". Our paths diverged, I juried my own artwork in, and on two different years tried to sell my enamels, but for the last few years since I moved to Acorn Cottage have chosen to stay home in July.

Thanks to a fortuitous combination of circumstances, I had the opportunity to return to Oregon Country Fair this year (the 40 year celebration)...

carved melon at one of the fruit salad booths

I arrived on site on Thursday afternoon, and after a not very long wait to check in and get "banded" (the wristbands this year were the kind of changeable design that shifts as you tilt it) I found my friends inside the Fair. Bill and Ariadne brought Ceilidh (Karen's niece) with them this year; she is 11, and it was her first Fair. I really enjoyed having her as a tent-roommate, and that I got to spend a lot of my time that weekend hanging out with her. 11 is a little too young to just be turned loose at Fair, and so in answering her questions, I got to see the site, and the sights, as if new.

winged clockworks stilt-walker
ferrocement and mosaic mushroom sculpture outside the Ritz Sauna and Bath-house

Friday night, she and Ariadne went to the the Carmina Burana fire opera show, I was just too tired, after helping Bill put the cart and stock away, I went back to camp and fell asleep. I don't have quite the stamina and resilience I did twenty-odd years ago, they have been some odd years indeed. I think I had more time to chat with folks and friends at Fair than at most SCA events, and I even found time to take a handcraft class at the Archaeology/Native skills booth, where I learned how to weave a bark basket from stirps of willow bark. I love basketry, though it is very hard on the hands and wrists, there is something so very primal and satisfying to me about it, every time I have done any basketry, it is as though my hands know they have done this before, in some other life...

On Sunday the skies opened, with thunder and lightning and a frogstrangling downpour. All day on and off rain made moving from one part of the Fair to another quite challenging. Six inches of rain turned silty fair pathways to sticky slippy mud, and the low ground into mud-wallows.

an appropriate song for Sunday

By Monday the rain had stopped, so tents were dry-ish for tear-down. The roads were so muddy that all gear needed packed out to the truck by handcarts. We stopped on the way home for a rejuvenating soak at Onsen, before the long drive back to resume our regularly scheduled lives...


  1. I did not go this year, last year was really intense for me there (good and not so good). Growing up in Eugene and going for most years since '85 either as a worker in a booth, a significant other or as an illegal and hiding from the sweep in friends' tents I ALWAYS get a bittersweet feeling come fair time. This year, nothing. Zip, nada, the big goose egg. I took that as a sign I didn't need to go. Seeing your pics and hearing about your experience is nice.
    I had to call my boyfriend in to watch the video and listen to the song. When we were first dating, he burst out singing that song one day. We have a CD along with that and other children's songs on it.
    Jack (my boyfriend) is a blacksmith. A few year's ago he helped Conrad out at the fair (the resident fair blacksmith). Our friend Alan has helped him the last 2-3 times, I think. Don't know if you know those folks. I don't really know them, I didn't hang out with them much, we had our own camping space in the entertainment camp (we got really lucky). Anyway, thanks for sharing your adventures!

  2. OCF seems to be a vortex of intensity, not surprising somehow...

    I put Flanders and Swann in the same musical genre as Tom Lehrer; I listened to them as a youngster and young adult, I think my parents had their record "At The Drop Of A Hat".

    I've known Conrad and Margaret for years, I even lived at their house briefly in 1992 after escaping from my ill fated move to Idaho. I also have a number of other friends that are blacksmiths...