When your first visit to the Virginia State Fair starts with seeing a calf take its first steps, you know you are going to have a good time.

Despite telling myself for the last seven-plus years I have lived in Virginia to make it to the state fair, it never happened – until this year. The timing worked out for me to finish work and head up the road to Caroline County on Sept. 30 joined by my friend Rachel, who was visiting from North Carolina. In addition to being a Monday night, it was a rainy evening, which some would see as a problem. We saw it as an opportunity to avoid the crowds.

Literally the first thing we saw as we entered the state fair from the press parking lot was a newborn calf that was about 90 minutes old. Housed in a tent focused on cows and their importance to society, it took a minute for Rachel and I to understand what we were seeing. The mother cow was still passing the afterbirth and connected to her offspring by the umbilical cord. As it moved around, taking its first steps and grappling with all of the sights and sounds of its new world – complete with the paparazzi-like onlookers snapping its picture – the mother cow was trying to lick evidence of the calf’s arrival into this world from its fur.

It was an awesome introduction to an event that is part carnival and lights and part agricultural celebration.

Without a map to guide us in the beginning, our first pass through of the state fair was just about soaking it all in. I loved seeing the bales of hay decorated like different scenes, hearing the giggling screams of the children on the kids’ rides, and smelling the first tantalizing whiffs of the fare the fair had to offer.

Before long though, we had a map and were heading with purpose to the fair’s Main Stage to watch the Xtreme Chinese Acrobats perform acrobatics, juggling, and tumbling feats with hula hoops, pots, furniture, and more. Their flexibility and balance, combined with the precision with which they work, is amazing to watch, and I marvel at the skill they must have honed over many years in their young lives.

After the show, we had a destination in mind but were waylaid by Hilby the Skinny German Juggler Boy, whose style of street performance and comedy had Rachel and the woman in front of her in such hysterics that the woman’s husband kept looking at them and shaking his head. Hilby was a one-man show who did it all – from juggling fire to eating off a sword while balancing on the top of a unicycle, all while poking fun at Americans, Virginians, and Germans at the same time. “He was really an exceptionally talented man,” Rachel said, while laughing as she remembered his act.

Once his show was over, we headed into the Farm Bureau Center to the competitive arts exhibition. The biggest attraction in there for me was the quilts, both because that is an art I am very passionate about learning right now and because I knew at least one of the people from Powhatan who had entered her quilts.

But while the quilts were amazing, I was equally impressed with the wide range of competition categories on display in the exhibit hall, including tables decorated in literary themes, photographs, baking contest entries (they looked so good I wished I was a judge), LEGO sculptures, duct tape clothing, metal sculptures, painted furniture, paintings, mixed media artwork, wreaths, baskets, dolls, decorated lamps, ceramics, and so much more. The skill and creativity on display inspired me to consider entering something of my own next year.

The delicious aromas wafting around the fairgrounds finally got to us, and we decided to purchase a snack – chocolate-covered bacon on a stick. This was our one indulgence for the night, and it was totally worth it as we both enjoyed the mix of savory and sweet.

I know it sounds really wrong, but we decided to finish our snack in a hurry because our next destination was back up the hill to see the Rosaire’s Royal Racers pig races. It was standing room only around the track to see some swift and not-so-swift portly porkers make their way around the track. You just had to laugh at the monikers given to some of the racers – Pork Chop Pam, Harry Hambone, Belly Buster, Rolling Thunder, Tyrone the Terrible, Lyndsay Loham, Christina Hogulara, Hama Montana, and Brittany Spareribs. The energy of the races was great because the crowd was as excited and boisterous as if people were watching the Kentucky Derby and had rent money on the line.

There is so much to see and do at the state fair that it is impossible to talk about it all in one go. But as we headed back toward the car later in the evening and passed back by the livestock tents, it was great to feel like we had come full circle. The newborn calf was resting in a different pen with its mother and looked surprisingly calm despite all the stimulus of its surroundings. We decided to get hands-on in our final moments there by participating in the cow-milking demonstration. It took two pulls for me to hear the hiss of the milk squirting out and hitting the pail, but Rachel was successful the first time around, which prompted her to break into a huge grin and crow, “I’m a natural!”

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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