Andre the Giant's basket weaving tutorial starts at noon. Twenty years ago, I attended my first Oregon Country Fair. It was a spontaneous adventure, unsanctioned by my parents, who believed me to be waterskiing. I've still never waterskied, but I've returned to the OCF numerous times over the past twenty years. I've escorted first-timers and have accompanied savvy fairsters, I've gone for multiple days and for just afternoons, have camped in some truly strange situations, and I have many memories - and some lost memories - from those past jaunts. This year was the 40th anniversary of the OCF and not a lot has changed.
It's true that you can wear whatever you want or as little as you want (best to paint those parts). Costumes, masks, and stilts abound. People-watching and shameless eavesdropping are de rigueur. This year, I saw a white-faced bozo-clown smack a loin-clothed, lovely and manly hippie-boy on his bare derriere. I saw whimsically painted pregnant bellies and naked parts I'd have preferred to have ignored. I love the loops of maze-like trails, the pockets of peacefulness along the stream, and the shady dragon-benches to take a respite from the shuffling, meandering masses, constant streams of dusty, compacted, variously scented fairsters searching for something special-a lantern, a massage, spiritual inspiration. Honestly, I was tempted to stop and talk to the shaman; what might he have advised?
Commerce, despite the saggy economy, seemed brisk. After parking ($8), admission ($18), eating something fried and wonderful ($3-$15 at one of the approximately 75 food booths), let the shopping begin. Food lines were long, and craft booths were crowded and thus merchants seemed optimistic. Plenteous devil-horned ($12) fairsters mixed with winged ($25), flower-crowned ($8) and ballerina-skirted ($30) fairies.
But a word must be said about cell phones. Their intrusive chirps, trills and raucous signals now infest the trails, the audiences and the shady groves. During the mesmerizing belly dancing at the Gypsy Caravan Stage - my fave - the summons to pick up the cell phone was repeatedly obeyed. Why not leave it at home? All of the ringing was intrusive, especially during a performance like that, during which it's reverently silent.
The past few times at the OCF I've marveled at the organizational event that is "The Peach." Thousands of volunteers and workers keep the hordes churning through the paths, fed, watered, and pottied. Rules, which have understandably become more stringent as the years have passed, are enforced with firmness and good humor. In the Miss Piggy parking field, when a smuggled-in dog was outed, a dreadlocked volunteer on an Appaloosa sprang into immediate action; "On it!" she said as she galloped after the miscreant. One can't help but admire that dedication to preserving the health and dignity of creation.
Not to judge (though I can't help it), but I'm still puzzling over the curiosity of an incongruous tattoo I saw: a confederate flag with "F**k You" in one of its diagonals. I have no clue what that means. As I was leaving, I saw the same guy returning from the parking lot, his girlfriend having transformed herself via a fairy tutu and wings. A magical transformation, at least for her. What would have compelled him to have been branded with a forever monument to hostility? Would the OCF change him? Would he later buy a satin cape or a leather codpiece?
It's reassuring that 40 years after its inception, everyone and everything belongs at the Oregon Country Fair, and the Pacific Northwest is its ideal home - "pacific," in this case, also meaning "peaceable." Oregon, with its creative, independent thinkers, a bastion of originality, is the home and the inspiration for such a feast of costumes, music, vaudeville, and freaks. The 40th year of the Fair yielded what it consistently does-a chance just to be amidst a multitude of happy, peaceful, patient, and accepting revelers. It won't be my last year there.