Thursday, July 05, 2018


When Ed asked last night if I'd like to go to a chicken competition early in the morning, I balked. I have a day off from just about everything (grandkids are otherwise occupied, my mom's apartment is nearly ready, the garden -- well, you know, the bugs keep me away from it). Do I really want to fill my morning hours with more chickens?

I was being a little unfair and a lot cranky. My idea of a fine day would have been to look at available land in places where bugs are not a menace. (Madison is very uneven in its bug population. One place will record thousands upon thousands and another -- a handful.) We could dream of buying and building. Fantasize about summers out in the yard. About evening strolls and morning yoga in front of a flower bed. (I have a vivid imagination.) But Ed reminded me that a move would be a very big deal. A huge deal. Not something that he would even consider unless we first exhausted all possibilities.

We discuss this over breakfast.


Realizing that a miracle solution (a search for a new home) is not right now in the offing, I take the next best thing: the morning with chickens.

Let me clarify: it's not really about the chickens. The event is the Stoughton Fair. Stoughton is a small town about 13 miles to the south and the Stoughton Fair is an annual event that brings the usual fun stuff to a small town (the carnival rides, the junk food) and, too, it has that small town sweetness to it (pie eating contest, tractor pulls) and an important agricultural component: poultry, cow, swine, sheep -- all displayed by proud kids, typically through their involvement with any number of local 4H groups.

And this I do like: watching kids present their coddled and manicured farm animals.

Before we set out, I do spend a little time in the garden -- so beautiful, yet so inaccessible at the moment!...


(A dragonfly! Welcome to our gardens!)


And then we take off, in time for the Stoughton Fair early morning chicken competition.


Kids care for their animals, but the mentorship and assistance from family is obvious.


Many, perhaps most of the girls have their hair in braids. Don't you wonder why? Is it a cultivated farm look? Or merely a good pairing to the groomed look of the animal they care for?

(Mom does the girl's braiding, little brother looks on...)


Another mom looks over the chicken claw to make sure it sparkles.


The judges in the competition can be brutal. Oh, the disparaging things we heard from the judge who looked over the seemingly lovely chickens in each round!

Here's one winner! The hen is the same breed as our Peach -- a Buff Orpington, but my oh my, does this one look huge!


And another. Hey, that's our Pepper! (A Barred Rock hen...)


Of course, not every chicken can be a winner...


Never give up hope!


 And now we change venue. So many other kids to admire!


Without question, the young showmanship competition is a big deal here. The focus here is on how well you present your calf.

I can't help but think that the Snowdrop would like this girl -- pink hair, boots with pink trim -- a winner for sure, no?


In the end, pink does win. This girl, also in pink trim boots, gets high praise for her composure, her smile, her superb way of handling her calf.


The older kids are next and I really see the step up in the poise and sophistication in showmanship...


We move on. There won't be other competitions this morning, but you can still inspect the fairgrounds and all the fantastic animals, all cooling off, with the help of water...


... in shady spots...


... and always under fans brought in by the caring owners.

After looking at the two swine pairs below, can you really still enjoy bacon?



Unlike at the Scottish fairs I attended, there is only a smattering of sheep at the Stoughton Fair. Here's one just after a shampooing of her wooly legs.


Goats are far more common. This kid got in trouble checking out a bucket. Ed stepped in to rescue him.


You know the saying -- goats eat everything? They do! At two separate times, a kid would wiggle her head out of the pen to reach for my flowered dress.


Despite the now somewhat oppressive heat, we leave the fair refreshed and energized. There's something uniquely special about a kid learning to take special care of a "kid." Or cow, or pig, or duck, turkey or chicken. Too, it's good to step out of the farmette's current fog of wetland bugs. We take a longer route back -- along rural roads that are Ed knows all too well from his Wednesday night bike rides.


He points out a number of wildlife refuge areas and we stop at a couple, just to admire the prairie growth and the beneficial bugs they seem to attract.


We spot any number of monarchs.


It's reassuring. Surely they aren't suffering from a lack of milkweed or flower nectar.


Time to head home.

In a field not too far from the farmette we spot a pair of sandhills. I suppose there are upsides of living close to wetlands.


Home. The place of a thousand day lilies.


Of flowers that line every path, every bit of the courtyard, and the long stretch of the road...


Would we someday pack up and leave all this behind? I'm not sure. These flowers were my babes before there were grandbabes. We put a lot of work into making them happy campers here. For now, we talk about other steps we could take to make outdoor work possible again.

In the evening, I put out some extra food for our cheepers, sit back on the now quiet porch, and take in a deep breath of summer evening air.