I’d heard the hype for a while. I even had a guest speaker come into one of my college major’s classes to talk about the event’s yearlong planning efforts. I always thought it would be neat to go to, but I never thought it would be anything too out of the ordinary. I love festivals, but they all kind of have a general template to them. Although each may vary and be special in its own way, I can typically predict what I’m going to get from it when I go. However, this year, after five years in Eugene, when I finally made it out to the Oregon Country Fair, I was absolutely blown away. I instantly understood the hype.
I took one of the free shuttles out to the fair with my cousin. We both looked out the window in wonder at parts of Lane County that we had never seen before. We even shared puzzlement over what the beautiful body of water was we were passing. For those who are curious, I googled it when I got home and it was the Fern Ridge Lake, which I actually had seen before, but from a different side. It was the first time going to the event for both of us — fair virgins, as we would later be referred to. The excitement grew more and more until it finally reached its peak as we began to pull into the fairgrounds. There were cheers on the bus and several riders paid great homage to the gigantic compost pile we passed. (It was pretty neat how waste conscious the event was.)
Stepping off the bus set the entire vibe for the rest of the fair. Everyone was so happy. It was incredible. It seemed as though I had fallen asleep on the bus and that this was actually just me stepping into a dreamland where all of the happy people were inviting me into their world of magic. I had never seen a more cheerful crew there to wave signs reminding us that the last shuttle back left at 7:30pm. There was an entire brigade of staff people there just to welcome us, tell us how happy they were to see us, compliment us, and wrap us in their juicy joy. I was uncontrollably smiling, as some sort of ten-foot tall wolf creature followed us into the event.
The fair was much larger than I had expected and in a much more exotic setting than I could have imagined. The long loops of festivities wound through the forest with open patches of sunny grass woven throughout. The vendors ranged from jewelry and masks to herbal remedies and glittering crowns. There were foods of all kinds and many people ready to paint your face (or body) with any design you may desire. Several stages were tucked away in various parts of the woods playing a variety of music and putting on all sorts of entertaining shows. It truly looked like its own mini faerie city. People were dressed and painted in the most unique costumes and colors. We even ran into a ten-foot tall, three-headed, purple alien. Although the venue was packed with people, creatures, and everything in between, there was such a calmness about it. As I later overheard a woman on the bus say, it’s easy to get around and not be bothered about bumping into so many people because it’s like they are all your friends. Kindness towards each other seems to reign as the law above all else in this three-day community. People attempted to have a level of “mellowness” that even I wasn’t accustomed to, as many bare breasts and booties roamed about and the bathrooms proudly advertised their innovative “female urinals.”
The weather was absolutely ideal. It was one of those perfect Oregon days that Oregonians like to use when gloating about the quintessential environment that is the Pacific Northwest. There was a light breeze and the temperature was just enough to be completely comfortable in a t-shirt, but not too much to be sweating profusely and hating life. I felt like the weather soaked into my very soul, but this could also be because I am feeling such heartache leaving this place that I am even more open to its mystical ways.
My cousin and I wandered about the fair for hours, soaking in its goodness. We dined on some scrumptious Thai food, wandered through many hippie dancing drum circles, and even checked out a band that claimed to play “psychedelic folk music,” all while in the comfort of the forest. We laughed at the end of the fair that we should have taken before and after pictures. We arrived as our normal selves, but both left with glittery, painted faces, flower crowns around our heads, and a general fair glow surrounding our auras. We both agreed that this had been the perfect Oregon “closure event” for the both of us. I will soon be leaving to the D.C. area and she will be off to Jordan for a year. The fair was the perfect event for us to go to in order to assure we would never forget our roots along the journey. On the shuttle ride back to Eugene, I enjoyed listening in on some of the “fair veterans” tell their stories. Some had been going to the fair for over ten years. For now, though, it was back to the real world.
Disneyland may be the self-acclaimed “happiest place on earth” in California, but as I overheard a woman say on the shuttle out to Veneta, the Oregon Country Fair is Oregon’s Disneyland. After seeing the costumes, marveling in the setting, observing the high level of courtesy amongst the guests, and genuinely feeling the cheer lift me through the fair, I can certainly see the event as a contender for the “happiest place on earth.” In fact, there was a moment while my cousin and I were walking that I turned to her and said, “I’m just having such a moment of this, I don’t know, Oregon happiness feeling right now,” and I motioned with my hand to my heart. Then I said, “I can’t really describe it more than that.” She replied that I didn’t need to because she knew exactly the feeling of which I spoke. And I can’t really describe it much more than that. We were two girls, in love with Oregon, floating around its Disneyland.