The Dane County Fair happens this week. Many of southern Wisconsin's county fairs were first held in the 1850s. Through nearly 160 years of constant change, from the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Age, Wisconsin's rural folk have gathered every summer to celebrate who and what they are.
One of my favorite things to do at the fair is to wander through the cattle barns, which was where I spent my fairs as a kid (at the Green County Fair in Monroe). How many of today’s kids, now so deeply involved in agriculture, a field that was likely to break your heart 40 years ago and is many more times likely to do so today, will pursue city careers after high school or college and never look back? Nevertheless, there’s something charming about the decorated barns, the carefully named animals, and the kids lounging in the hay beside their animals, secure in the feeling that this is where they’ll always want to be. To walk through the exhibition halls and to look at the various photography, gardening, and woodworking projects is to remember my own attempts at such projects, and to remember how, after the fair was over, those projects seemed like fallen leaves that had outlived their useful purpose. I wonder how many of these projects lead today’s kids to lifelong hobbies, and how many become junk in the back of the closet, just another “thing I was into for a while when I was a kid”?
Kids, of course, don't know what they don't know. They don't know how their lives are going to unfold, and they live in the moments as they experience them. They don't walk around in present moments looking back at other moments, as some of us are so likely to do now that we're older. And so, for the kids you'll see at the fairs this week, this is life right now, and that's the only thing that matters, right now.