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Woodstock — Picture, if you will, Socrates eating a corn dog, riding a Ferris wheel, and pondering a quintessential philosophical question: Is the Woodstock Fair, which opened Friday and continues today and Monday, the last big event of summer? Or is it the first great event of autumn?
Driving to the fairgrounds on a splendidly cool Saturday morning, a few leaves in the rolling hills near the Massachusetts border had already started to turn. As folks wandered the honeycombed paths near the midway, the Great Pumpkin Tent and an ongoing sand sculpture featured jack-o’-lantern motifs. The exhibition halls were stocked with colorful fruits, vegetables and sunflowers and, in addition to an olfactory serenade of smoked chicken, grilling sausages and fried dough, the autumnal scent of maple beckoned from kettle corn vendors.
Inside the Cattle Barn, siblings John Bertrand and Stephanie Bertrand were tending to the livestock — eight Simmentals and a Hereford — they’d brought from their Hillcrest Farms in Auburn, Mass. Participating in the Woodstock Fair, they said, is a family tradition and a favorite of the almost two dozen fairs or shows they attend each year.
“Part of the reason we like it is that we definitely regard it as the first event of the fall,” Stephanie Bertrand said. “There are all the displays of harvest vegetables. And pumpkins everywhere.”
“Last night, you could see your breath,” her brother added. “It feels like fall, and it definitely marks the change of the season.”
Inside the Main Exhibition Hall, Lisa Hackner, superintendent of the fair’s photo and painting competitions, smiled and said, “As far as this area’s concerned, I consider this the first big event of the fall. There’s a big harvest theme, and that suggests that it’s time to get ready for winter. It’s the perfect time of year in Woodstock. Our fall is beautiful.”
Seated on a bench directly in front of a carnival ride ominously called the Freak Out, Killingly’s Matt Crobes clutched two stuffed animals — hard-won trophies from a midway game booth. His eyes were on two of his three children as they got secured in their seats before the big Freak Out experience.
“With three kids, I can definitely say we spend a lot of time in amusement parks,” he said. “But we really like the Woodstock Fair. It’s a perfect way to end the summer — and a perfect way to start fall. I love the fall, and being here is a reminder that it’s coming.”
Working in any of the culinary concessions, though — particularly those that fry, grill or otherwise heat food — might not seem as poetically crisp and cool.
Cheryl Martin, one of the co-owners of Mikey’s Fries — an open, two-level operation that offered everything from deep-fried pickles and corn to a cartographer’s variations on the classic french fry, including German fries and Australian fries — said she thinks the Woodstock Fair is a farewell to summer.
“September’s coming, but it’s still August,” she laughed. “At least today and tomorrow. We’re from South Carolina, and it’s not as hot as in the south. But it still seems like the end of summer.”
Four members of the 2015 Woodstock Academy senior class were part of an assembly line crafting superb sandwiches at a Roast Beef Barbecue Pit. The booth is staffed and sponsored by members of the Academy’s Model United Nations organization, and proceeds from their efforts help send the future diplomats to mock U.N. conferences around the country.
Appropriately, the four — Lindsey Taylor, Angel Martin, Abby Willis and Bailey Napierata — thought the autumn/summer question was worthy of debate.
“Being here together at the fair is a summer thing,” Taylor said. “... The weather’s warm, and it’s the end of vacation.”
“At the same time, in Woodstock, we already started school a week ago,” Martin genially countered. “We’re already in class, so to be here this weekend, it’s like fall’s starting.”
As the sun rose in the sky and a steady stream of incoming fairgoers created a bit of a pedestrian morass, the temperature indeed warmed up. On a long path lined with concessions, Bryan Phar and his four children were discussing food options but were happy to ponder the seasonal question.
“New England is all about spring and autumn,” Phar said. “Summer’s too hot and winter’s too cold. Plus, autumn in New England is perfect. It’s Labor Day weekend, but we’re going to say this marks the start of fall.”