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Mares: Back To Tunbridge

09/20/11 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Commentator Bill mares reflects on volunteering at the Tunbridge fair, two weeks after Irene's flood roared through towns across Vermont - including Tunbridge.

(MARES) For a number of years I have volunteered to sell honey and talk bees at the Vermont Beekeepers Association booth at the Tunbridge World's Fair. Country fairs like this evolved to offer end-of-summer sensory overload, with music, food, rides, competition, and merchandise. But sorting out my thoughts about this year's Fair was like trying to untangle debris along a flood-ravaged river.

It began as I drove the mere five miles from Bethel to South Royalton. After its rampage the White River was back within its banks, its color a sullen gray. The river had chewed new channels. Fields were scoured, scraped  and covered with silt. Rows of corn showed the high water marks. Two bridges looked as if they had been bombed.

Tunbridge, however, lay in a valley of relative tranquility. The cattle barns had been cleaned of silt. The bridges were secure and the fields were dry. Scores of polite Norwich University cadets in green and blue sweatshirts directed the parking.

On my way in I chatted with Euclid Farnham, a long-time president of the fair. He said that he  knew that attendance would be down, but they never thought of cancelling. Nor had they cancelled ten years ago in the week after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, I remembered, they had proclaimed 10 minutes of silence which was only broken by the occasional lowing of a cow.

I ambled along the midway, moving through ranks of kiosks with the usual heart-stopping foods, including sausages, burgers, onions, and French fries, past robotic carnival workers at pitch and toss and shooting galleries and through a forest of rides for children. Politicians hawked their promises and dreams; the National Guard sold patriotic adventure; others sold tractors, insurance, T-shirts and fudge.
 
Inside the Dodge-Gilman building, we beekeepers shared space with Cabot cheese, the Christmas tree growers association, The Grange, and rack upon rack of prized vegetables, fruits and pumpkins as big as all-terrain vehicles.
 
Our six-hour shift went non-stop. The world came to us, the thin and the round, the young and the old, the fleet and the lame. We had three irresistible attractions: One was great local Vermont honey to taste and to buy. We sold plastic honey sticks by the thousands. Secondly, we could answer anxious questions that despite poor weather this year, Vermont bees were in relatively good health. But the biggest draw was our observation hive with 3,000 bees crawling around beneath glass, safe from human harm. Everyone from toddlers to totterers with canes could play the beekeeper's version of "Where's Waldo?" as they searched for the queen bee.
 
We were a little short on help when one volunteer bowed out with a broken foot, another with a broken leg, and Del Cloud the town manager of flood-stricken Bethel, asked for a rain check. In the end, however, we had enough volunteers. And what's more, we were named the best booth in the entire Fair, a prize which gets us in free next year!

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