State Fair

Monday, July 12, 2010

We spent our weekend under slightly stormy skies, unusual in Southern California this time of year, getting Brianne’s five show lambs ready for the State Fair. It always amazes me that after all these years and all the shows we’ve been to I can still spiral out of control with nerves and anxiety. The hardest part of the whole affair is just getting out the door so we can make the 9 hour drive with enough time to leisurely unload and set up. Once on the fairgrounds though all the tension seems to slip away and we fall into familiar routines. We all have our jobs and everyone gets to it with little or no nudging.

We have to be on the fairgrounds by 6PM Tuesday, but because the central valley of California can be so bloody hot (today’s temps hovered around 105) we leave Monday late night and drive straight through, hopefully arriving around 7 or 8AM, before the temperatures shoot back up to triple digits. Once we locate our pens on the barn chart we unload tack and feed and animals, arrange our grooming area and feed and water our road weary lambs. By mid-afternoon the barn will be abuzz with trucks and trailers of all shapes and sizes rolling in and off-loading tack and animals. It finally quiets down in the early evening as the arrival deadline nears.

Wednesday morning we’ll weigh-in and all the animals will be broken up into classes by their weight. It’s always fun to stand in line chatting and catching up with people we haven’t seen since our last weekend show in late April. Because the weather is so hot many of the shows take place in the late afternoon and evening when breezes coming off the Delta cool the barn to a respectable temperature.

By Thursday though it’s no holds bar, a rush of washing and shearing, fine-tuning each animal so they look their best for the judge. Thursday is Market Judging – the day when months of hard work and attention to detail; of early mornings and late evenings; of missed outings with friends all come together. This is the day the Champions are selected!

At our State Fair there are five different breed divisions the kids can enter. That’s why Brianne has five lambs; one for each division. The judge evaluates each class in a particular division, and then places them in order of preference. After all the classes in a division are judged they bring back the top two animals from each class to be judged for Division Champion. When all the divisions are judged and Champions selected the Division Champions return to the show ring for the selection of Supreme Champion, the top lamb of the entire show. That’s the dangling carrot. Months of work and sacrifice all comes together in one day.

The rest of the week seems to slow with each passing day, as classes like breeding sheep and showmanship and knowledge bowls are completed like some strange check list to make your way through.

By next Sunday we’ll be exhausted from days spent working and sweating in the hot, dusty livestock barn. But, with it comes a measure of sadness. Even though we are all competitors we are also friends. We’ve watched our kids grow in maturity and in skills; boys have become men and girls young women, with each passing year. We’ve seen them step into the show ring as fierce competitors and walk out to become silly, giggly, fun-loving kids again. It’s an amazing, and amusing transformation. And, I never tire of watching the scene play out.

Large livestock shows are a fascinating combination of lightening-speed work followed by mind-numbingly boring stretches of time with nothing to do but wait for your next class. It’s a scenario I’ve re-played over and over again for 30-years and I wouldn’t change one thing about it. These shows, the skills I’ve learned and the people I’ve befriended are all part of what makes me who I am today. And, I like that just fine.

I think we’re ready though…the lambs are washed and sheared, tack and supplies are packed in the trailer, the truck has been serviced. All we do now is wait to depart.

So – if you don’t hear from us for a few days this is why. But, I will try to post the outcome and maybe even a few pictures of winners. Our fingers are crossed.

With all that, I’ll say goodnight. It’s been a long weekend; I’m sore and sweaty and tired. After a quick shower I’ll appreciate the crisp, clean sheets I put on my bed yesterday. Our long drive tomorrow comes with its own set of stresses, and while I don’t look forward to it I am glad for it. I must remember I’m not invincible. I’m just a single mom with a kid to raise, a trailer full of sheep and a very small suburban homestead to tend. But I am happy. I like where I am and that’s enough.

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