Monday, August 14, 2017

Finding Inspiration at the Mid-State Fair

I grew up riding horses and taking care of animals. I worked on a farm for a while. But for many years now I've lived in cities and suburbs. I don't have a horse anymore, and my only animal is a small fluffy dog. Yet I write about horses and cattle and ranches. And although I can pull from experiences I had long ago, lately I've been craving the real thing. So last month I got in my car and drove a few hours south to the California Mid-State Fair.

There is something so magical about a fair.  People walk in with a certain energy, eager to get to their favorite attraction. You can tell that a lot of folks put time into choosing their outfits  From crisply ironed western shirts to motorcycle boots and fringed leather vests... I could have spent the entire time just watching the outfits!

But I was there to see the animals. So I made my way to the big barns and came upon the sheep and goats, and the 4-H kids. Maybe it's the former-teacher in me, but I love seeing the kids' displays and the way they interact with their animals and each other.

An especially decorative 4-H group display.

I had the most charming chat with the little girl who owned this goat. A goat full of mishaps, including a notched ear due to a dehorning accident and green ears because somehow the ink used to tattoo a number in the ear exploded everywhere.

Even though it seemed extremely doubtful that this little goat was going to win any ribbons, the girl and her mother were having so much fun just being a part of the fair. And will this goat and the little girl make it into one of my stories? It's very possible!

My next stop was the judging ring. I found myself cheering on each child. All of the judging was interesting, but the judge of the heifer competition discussed every animal with the audience so we understood why he chose the winners. I learned a lot about heifers!

Judging sheep.

This little boy was brushing some dirt off of his pig's backside
just before the judge entered the ring.

Judging the heifers.
While I watched the judging, I tried to take in everything I could about my surroundings. Things that stood out?  The dust in the air, the smells of the animals, the half-light of the open-sided barn that gave everything a slightly golden hue. The proud parents, the independent kids, the enormous American flag, the cowboy hats and boots. What really struck me was the way everyone was focused on something so simple, such as the way a sheep stood, or the width and breadth of a heifer's chest. Life in our country has felt pretty mixed-up lately, and it was refreshing to get back to the basics. I really felt like I was seeing one of the things that makes our nation so special.

Then it was on to the arena where I was fortunate to catch one of the team sorting competitions. Wow.  If you've never seen a cutting horse at work, make sure you do so. The horses and riders look like they're dancing. And the team sorting has you on the edge of your seat as the riders work together to cut certain cows out of the herd and make sure the wrong ones don't leave the pen.

I loved watching the teams of women. Cowgirls rock!

But this gentleman was so comfortable in the saddle, I really enjoyed seeing him too.

It's hard to choose between all the photos I took, but this next one is probably my favorite. The tenderness of the daddy's posture toward his son, the way he seems to be listening to his little boy so intently even though he just finished competing, melted me. Will that man become a hero in one of my novels? Absolutely.

As writers, or even as readers, we can end up spending a lot of time indoors, with our computers or kindles. My trip to the Mid-State Fair was a reminder to get out in the world and experience things close up. I had a fun adventure and came away inspired to write many more stories!

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