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  • catherine stemper

Through the Looking Glass

Today the Oregon Country Fair is usually opening. It is my favorite show of the year, a big , I mean BIG hippie festival in the woods outside Eugene, Oregon. All the vendors (over 900), camp for the whole week preparing the site, building booths, and decorating. It is like summer camp for creative types. The performers are from around the world, unique, amazing, brain expanding. The food is all handmade and local, no mass produced anything, no brand names, other than local brands. The booths are all wooden and stick built, sometimes that very week. It is held on an ancient native American gathering ground on the Long Tom River. There are mosquitoes, pit toilets, community showers, and private ones too, dusty paths through the trees and meadows. Every kind of human being imaginable, and some never before imagined, are there.

I love this place. It brings me back to center.

I also hate this place. It is the hardest show I do, I am gone for a week, and its only 2 hours from my house. But because it is what it is, I have to camp there. I have to bring all my camping gear, and maybe should say glamping gear because I have to be comfy! I am also working, so I also have to be cute, meaning an entire wardrobe, work clothes for setting up and tearing down, and nice clothing for when I am selling and socializing. I usually need about 3 outfits a day, that all coordinate and can be layered up or peeled off. Plus I need a camp kitchen, a lounge area, and a toilet. There are pit toilets and out houses at the fair, but they are kinda gross sometimes, and have lines!

The OCF is not the place for the feint of heart or the timid. Even just attending as a guest/customer is overwhelming. It can be very hot, crowded, and very very easy to be lost (among the crowds) for hours. Ive had many emotional breakdowns, in fact it used to be a regular thing. But now, after at least 15 years of vending there, I have enough experience that I know it wont go as planned, but it might be better. It is THE place for magic to happen, good and bad. Ive been taken by surprise by how badly it is organized and how well it works out anyway. I can never find the answer to my question, or the person to answer that question, but I know it will be answered, and sometimes by a "fair"y who grants my wish.

Just last night, after hours of blundering with the OCF online site trying to build some sort of booth in the virtual fair, I was about ready to give up. I am not a web designer, but was kind of enjoying the process. It was really clunky, and I am a novice so the combo was problematic. Then, as I was clicking out, someone asked me if they could help me. She asked me for some photos through email. I could do that. Within moments, she had built my booth. It isnt super fancy, or even in the right place, but it is close enough, and it makes me happy.

The Oregon Country Fair is so much like Alice's Wonderland. The familiar is scary, the strange is comforting, the up is down, the in is out. The OCF changes you. No one ever leaves it the same as they entered. It has taught me patience and humility. It has given me hope in humanity. T

en thousand people living together in the woods for a week, and getting along, mostly. I even left my purse full of cash on a bench once. Did not realize it for hours. When I went back to the bench, crying in the dark, I heard someone say my name. She had found my purse, and kept it for me, in tact, until I returned. WOW. It gives me a place to go in my mind when the world is just too ugly and violent. It shows me that humans can be selfish, mean, egotistical, greedy, wonderful, loving, generous, happy, and funny. Mostly the latter. If you have never been to the Oregon Country Fair, make plans. Visit the ocfintheclouds.net for a virtual experience, and go when reality lets us. Peaches!

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