A Photographer Travels To A County Fair

There is something rustic about a county fair that reminds us of simpler times. [Click photos for larger versions]
There is something rustic about a county fair that reminds us of simpler times. [Click photos for larger versions]
Young people do most of the day-to-day work at many Virginia farms, and definitely at county fairs.
Young people do most of the day-to-day work at many Virginia farms, and definitely at county fairs.
A young man gives his cow a bath before parading it before the judges.
A young man gives his cow a bath before parading it before the judges.
Raising these beautiful animals to be part of our food supply is not something everyone can emotionally handle.
Raising these beautiful animals to be part of our food supply is not something everyone can emotionally handle.
Visiting a county fair has to be one the best known ways of reverting back to an earlier stage in your life.
Visiting a county fair has to be one the best known ways of reverting back to an earlier stage in your life.
You thought you didn't want one until you saw them, but first you must prove your skills at throwing something.
You thought you didn’t want one until you saw them, but first you must prove your skills at throwing something.

Some things never change, and that’s OK with me. Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much love every convenience this modern world has to offer, specially if it makes everyday life a little easier to bear. But even when modernity rules the day in the cities, I can’t help but find it refreshing to know that some things out there in the “real world” don’t ever change much. In America we may not have the incredible ancient ruins you will find all over Europe, but one thing we have over all those Europeans is a good, old-fashioned county fair. Not sure whether it is just nostalgia or something a bit deeper than that, but for this humble photographer, a country-flavored county fair just does the trick every time. Cattle, chickens, pigs, sheep, you name it and I want to see it all. Thick, fluffy corndogs, cotton candy, and pulled-pork sandwiches? Can I get an Aaamen?

However, no matter how much some of us love these county fairs, the sad reality is that for most city folks, their existence doesn’t even register on their life radars. I mentioned the ongoing Loudon County Fair to some folks recently and their reaction was tantamount to me offering them to join me for Typhus injections. They’ve all been to them, but that was back then, way back then. After all, are they not primarily for children? Well, yes and no, even if for most grownups it does bring out the inner child in them. And who would like to ride on an old, clunky ferris wheel when you can go ride air conditioned gondolas on a mega-structure like the London Eye? Well, call me sentimental, but yours truly does.

Above all, I really like the people I meet at a county fair. Hard-working, approachable folks who are an incredible source of information about anything having to do with raising farm animals and bringing them to market. And they put their children to work, big time. No cell phones or video games for these kids when work needs to be done, and there’s never a shortage of work at a farm. After several hours of conversation, education, and stuffing my face with things my doctor would cringe at, I found the whole thing to be quite a welcomed break from the city-sleeker habitat I call home these days. Better? Not necessarily, but it really felt good to get some “mud on my boots” for a change.

 

A Slow Journey To Nowhere

Old Tractor
Some of the most picturesque farmland in the country can be found along Virginia’s Route 50. [Click photos for larger versions]
Horse farms and polo grounds dot the Virginia countryside along Route 50.
Horse farms and polo grounds dot the Virginia countryside along Route 50.
Red Barn
Beautiful, old barns have been restored all along the picturesque town of Middleburg.
Bird House
An old birdhouse adds to the charm of one of the rustic yards in the town of Middleburg.
Bails of Hay
Bails of hay dot the fields along Route 50.
Covered Driveway
Long, covered driveways are extremely popular with the folks who live along Route 50.

I think our parents were up to something when they hauled the entire family into their vintage cars for the purpose of doing a little road tripping. And as rare as it sounds today, the habit of going out for a family ride in those old cars was one of the things some of us remember fondly from our youth. No agenda, no plans, and no particular destination in mind. Cruising around to check out what was happening in town had its own rewards. It was pure automobile zen. Right turns, left turns, slow down here and speed up over there, an unchoreographed dance where everyone’s performance became the stuff of family legends.

This sort of nostalgia is what led me recently to get in my car and hit the road, so to speak. All I knew was that I would drive down Virginia’s Route 50 for as long as I felt like it and that at some point I would perform a Forrest Gump-like turnaround and come back home. So along I went, music playing on the radio, windows down, and no destination. With my camera sitting next to me, I did tell myself that I would stop at whatever site caught my attention, even if it took all day to complete my journey. I knew this would be a problem because Route 50 is one of the most scenic country roads you’ll encounter anywhere in the US. But here was a unique opportunity to try out some of that “slow travel” concept that the Europeans have mastered so well over the years. Would it really be possible to do away with all notions of time while driving into the sunset of our minds? Well, the short answer seems to be no, but if it’s impossible to do away with that old torturer time, it is definitely possible to ignore it for a while.

Route 50 may just be the perfect place for this. And while I’ve written about this area before, the sheer beauty of this American landmark makes it the place you keep coming back to, over and over again. Hard to think of a better place in the area for a road trip, although admittedly, Route 211 past the town of Warrenton comes close. BBQ’s and horse farms are big in the area, as well as quaint, little towns where you can find everything from Amish patio furniture to Alpaca socks. But it’s the landscape that will make you forget all notions of time for a while. The green meadows just seem to go on forever until they reach the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, while happy horses graze on grass so green that it looks as if it has been painted recently. It is easy to loose yourself in this scenery and the delicate touch of a morning breeze. Who knows, perhaps it is possible to make time stand still after all, even if for that brief moment when nothing else mattered but what was in front our my eyes.

 

In Search Of Simplicity

A lonely tree along a country road reminds us that sometimes, less is indeed more.
A lonely tree along a country road reminds us that sometimes, less is indeed more.
Showing the ravages of time and neglect, an old barn sits abandoned along a Virginia dirt road.
Showing the ravages of time and neglect, an old barn sits abandoned along a Virginia dirt road.

I am convinced that driving along country backroads is a sure way of discovering all sorts of photographic wonders.  Not that this sort of observation will lead to a Nobel Prize any time soon, but rather that in today’s busy world, driving for pleasure has become a rarity for too many people.  If you are old enough to remember the family Sunday ride, you’ll know what I mean.  It was all about the ride, and about looking around.  A visual journey where time and speed were always subordinated to the thrill of discovering something new (or different) along the way.  The rides were fun, unstructured, and rewarding.  Sort of like sitting behind a glass window in a coffee shop watching the world go by, but with wheels.  These photos were the product of one such ride along the Virginia countryside.  Amazing what you find when your eyes insist on seeing.