It’s that time of year again. No, not road construction. No, not mowing. Not gardening. Not fishing. Not…

Okay, that was a bad opening line.

It’s county fair season!

For those of you who have never been, let me describe a typical county fair. You need to purge your mind of any thoughts of the State Fair, because it’s not really comparable.

The fair is probably set in what is, 51 weeks of the year, considered a very large empty lot or a small field. There’s probably three or four buildings on the property – a barn, perhaps an old Quonset, and likely an office.

For the weekend of county fair, though, it’s overrun by all manner of things: 4-H kids with livestock and exhibits, food vendors with all manner of means to a heart attack, an overpriced carnival, booths from local businesses, and, on election years, politicians to explain why they should be nominated for sainthood while their opponent is clearly on the southbound train.

And yes, it’s election year.

Depending on your locality, the attractions past this vary. Some places have car races, petting zoos, coin hunts,¬†rodeos, or really off-the-wall events like pig racing. (Personally, I’m looking forward to this year’s ranch rodeo; as someone who grew up on a working ranch, I think it’s way more entertaining than the usual fair. Your mileage may vary.)

For me, the local county fair is in Underwood. (Check your local listings.)

I’ve been going there as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was a proud member of 4-H and spent years showing (or being dragged by) cattle, sheep, and goats, and a smattering of static exhibits. Over the years, I put entries in woodworking, leatherwork, photography, and drawing. Prize money actually was a big chunk of my spending cash every year until I was old enough to work.

Lest you think that this whole thing sounds very rural, let me put your fears to rest: it¬†is very rural. But it’s also modernizing.

Several weeks back I got a phone call from the local extension agent. (That alone was a bit of a surprise – she and I haven’t been on very good terms dating back to when we were neighbors. For some reason, she thought I should kill all those pretty little dandelions my niece likes so much. It’s not like they spread or anything.)

Even more surprising than the call was the reason. “Will you be a judge for a division at the county fair this year?”

“Why me?”

“I couldn’t find anyone else.”

With that out of the way, I agreed to judge an electronics division at the fair. Now, that’s not out of the way for me – before I started writing novels, I spent five years working in IT, including three years at the MDU corporate headquarters in Bismarck, the last year of which I was a supervisor. But the follow-up call later did worry me a bit, when I found out I would also be judging leatherwork.

But I agreed to it – my working theory being that if people quit volunteering, these events don’t happen. And also, my mother is on the fair board, and even if I’m nearly thirty years old, I’m still on occasion scared of her.

All that said, I’d encourage you to look up your local fair. Take an afternoon, or even just a few hours, to attend. The kids work hard to put together projects and raise livestock. Your own kids will love the carnival. You might find something to eat that you wouldn’t try any other day of the year.

It’s well worth the price of attendance, and it’s a tradition to be kept alive.