Common Ground

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September 28th 2016
Published: June 10th 2017
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Geo: 44.6111, -69.335

This past weekend (September 23 - 25) we spent both Saturday and Sunday volunteering at the Common Ground Fair in appropriately named Unity, Maine. The fair is one of the events offered by MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and has been running since 1977, although it's moved to three different locations over the years, mainly to accommodate the increasing numbers of people who attend. In this tiny rural community, over 60,000 people can be expected to come over the Fair weekend. I love the Common Ground Fair! Its focus is to celebrate organic living, farming, and gardening; it appeals to alternative type people, people who basically buck many typical American approaches to life, people who use herbs and homeopathy instead of allopathic medicine, people who homeschool their children, people who grow a lot of their own food and do not eat the ubiquitous standard American diet, who don't care about or even notice the color of other peoples' skin, people who respect animals and most religions--or none at all-- finding they worship best in nature, those who don't enjoy (hate!) shopping in malls, people who might live off the grid. Except for the last category, I comfortably fit into all the others. This is a wonderful country fair!

Fair goers come from near and very far; some have trekked from California, Washington state, Hawaii, even Europe. It is the longest running alternative fair in the world, and is renowned for what it offers. This year, as usual, there were tents focussing on political and social activist groups, environmental organizations, crafts and folk arts, health and healing; there were sheep dog demonstrations (always a favorite activity!), apple, grape, and beer tastings, yoga and meditation classes, a fleece show. There are always draft horses, donkeys and mules, and, another favorite: the Harry S. Truman Games, which features who can pitch manure the furthest. (I have not gone to that.) Talks are held every hour for each of the three days; you could learn about herbs, homeopathy, protection from and alternatives to pesticides, how to prepare kombucha or beer, or how to make your own wine from flowers in your garden. This year I went to a talk on green burials, to see exactly what are the current laws in the state of Maine. Even though many of my friends have told me that it is illegal to bury someone on your own land, I was reassured that it is indeed legal, but you must fill out a form. (Of course.) You can also skip the embalming, and keep the newly departed in your own home, if you so choose; services of a funeral director are not required. But this topic is rather morbid; I just want to know ahead of time so decisions can be made, and wishes honored. Years ago I changed my mind about being cremated and decided on a green burial--on our land out back. Everybody said it wasn't legal, but it is. Plus, it's far better for the cleaner environment I'll leave for those still living. Plant daisies or sunflowers over my grave. Or Echinacea.

The Common Ground Fair, unlike most other country fairs, doesn't have rides, nor does it allow anything not made or produced in Maine. The lack of coffee was a sore spot for fair-goers for many years, as coffee is not grown in Maine, but since the beans can be processed in our state it has been allowed on fairgrounds for a few years now. Many people are happy with that decision. As for rides, children use pieces of cardboard to slide down gentle hills; they make musical instruments and artwork in the Children's Tent; they get their faces painted and dance to live music created by musicians playing their own instruments. We all can dance whenever we want.

For decades now, on Saturdays, in years when I am not giving one of the talks on homeopathy, I volunteer at the MAH booth, supporting our state's professional organization, the Maine Association of Homeopaths. This is always fun as I get to chat with the other groups in our tent, and with people who stop by our table, asking questions, or how to find a qualified homeopath near them. The 3 hour shift goes by very quickly. Bill always stops by midway through my shift, bearing hot chocolate. These are good days!

And on Sunday mornings, from 6 - 10AM, every year I volunteer at the Rose Auto Gate, directing trucks and cars --and people who walk in-- where to go. I used to enjoy directing cars and trucks into pleasing color patterns, but the parking situation has gotten cumbersome, so now different areas are marked for different vehicles; my artistic parking has therefore become limited. It gets very hectic between 7:30 and 8AM, when the last deliveries can be driven onto fair grounds; this is the time I love best! Between a parade of vehicles driving up and walkers trying to sneak by to get in, we volunteers try to reach them all, to collect their tickets and stamp their hands. It can become a very boisterous time, but it is such fun. For our early morning shift we get special perks: we get to witness usually gorgeous sunrises (although a few years it poured buckets on us), other volunteers bring us breakfast, and, at the Auto Gate, we get sprung a little after 9AM, so with our work done, we are free to go enjoy the Fair for the whole day. Volunteers also get free entry, plus lunch vouchers, plus organic cotton tee shirts. How could anyone pass all this up?

But every year as I anticipate waking by 4:30AM to get to Unity on time, I think that it might be so nice just to sleep another little bit, be continue being warm and snug. This year that was very appealing as we had our first frost Saturday night, and it was truly well below freezing when we arrived on the grounds. I was prepared though; I wore thermals underneath many layers, winter boots, wool hat, socks, and mittens, plus the double jacket I had received on my trip to Antarctica. Thus padded, it was quite comfortable standing around waiting for the sun to rise and the people to arrive. Others, new to the post, had not prepared quite so well and probably got frostbite. Maybe they'll work in the warm kitchen next year.

One of the best things about the Common Ground Fair is knowing that almost everyone who comes has a similar understanding of life in general, or at least wants to learn about how "alternative" people think. The food is all organic and therefore totally safe to eat, and no one who comes is wearing Gucci.


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