Many town fairgrounds are laid out on flat places, river flood plains, old glacial lake bottoms, or on fallow ag land. Not so the Cornish Fair, which is tucked between two steep north-south trending ridges in a valley that climbs away from the Cornish Town Hall on Town House Road.
The parts of the fair are laid out on flattened plateaus separated by steep cart tracks. The competitions — ox, pony, and horse pulls, ax throwing and tree chopping — are furthest west; the vendors trailers and some food trucks are furthest north and highest; and then the bulk of the fair stretches down to the road.
On Saturday it was full of well-behaved, immaculately groomed cows and slightly less well behaved and creatively groomed human beings enjoying a break from the rain in spite of the humidity.
If you entered the fair through the entrance closest to the parking area, you passed the Cornish Elementary School.
In the gymnasium there was a student art show, a quilting exhibit and competition, tables laden with picture-perfect vegetables and preserves, and sewn and crocheted crafts.
Gabbie Bowie rides Tulip.
All of these had been judged on Friday morning and the winners were hung with blue, red and yellow ribbons.
The youngest age category in the art show was for 6 to 8 year olds, and their entries were predictably adorable.
Much of the work by the adults was quite accomplished. One wag entered his photo of a glistening spider web in the “architectural” category.
Late Saturday morning there was a good crowd filling the bleachers for a performance by the Kent Family Circus in spite of the warm sun and mugginess.
There were actually fewer people gathered to watch the ax-throwing competition, although they seemed to watch more closely.
Contestants stood 20 feet from a tree round with a bulls-eye painted on it, cocked a double-bladed ax over their backs and launched it end over end at the target.
There is a hole drilled at the bull’s eye into which is shoved a can of tonic. It explodes with gratifying spray when a thrown ax splits it.
Several competitors take the horse-pulling contest very seriously.
The ox-pulling competition is perhaps a surprise to those who think of oxen as mellow, castrated bulls. These teams of two were prancing, obstinate, visibly muscled animals.
Half the battle of each trial was to convince them to back up to the sledge, so that the line attached to their yoke could be looped over a hook on the sledge.
A “full pull” required the animals to move the load the length of the sledge, which was laden with increasing numbers of concrete blocks in progressive rounds.
Watching the animals pull was fascinating, but watching the fair workers increase the weight on the sledge was to see poetry in motion. A Kubota front loader operated with deftly dancing hands picked up the concrete blocks after steel pins on chains hanging from the bucket were inserted into pipes emerging from either end of a block. It was lowered into place guided by economical hand gestures from a man whose eyes never left the descending load. He then took an iron pike and tucked the huge block snugly into place with two quick levered lifts and drops.
Down the hill on the flats below are the rows of stalls where the animals, mostly cows on Saturday, waited to be judged. Around noon the finalist in the heifer contest were being selected as they stood in a remarkably straight and calm row. An Ayrshire owned by Tyler Woodman took first place and was described as so pretty she was “standing in her wedding clothes.”
You can hear the sound stage as you walk among the vendor and food booths, but it doesn’t drown out the murmur of the cows, the creaks of the carnival rides, or the voices of friends hailing one another through the midway crowd.
Shana Stack and her band were entertaining a good-size crowd with country-rock covers and the volume is directed into the steep hillside upon which the audience sits and watches as seven folks line dance expertly in front of the stage.
There is another art exhibition in the town hall building, but these are for sale. The walls are filled with oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, and there were prints and mixed media pieces.
Much of the work can’t help but be inspired by the natural and built landscape in which the artists work, but there are surprises: people obsessed with 19th century Japanese prints or making visual puns that involve fossils and fossil fuels.
As you leave the Cornish Fair you pass the bingo tent with a game in full swing. Back up at the parking lot the mud is getting slippery. The Live Free or Die Riders have been directing traffic there all day.
One biker calmly instructs a Ford Taurus driver to back up … a little more … now come forward with a little speed and you’ll make it. And they do.
-- BILL CHAISSON