Giddyup

“Courage is being scared to death – and saddling up anyway.”  John Wayne.

As part of my Allen County Fair extravaganza I attended my very first rodeo.  Luckily, there are cowboys in the South and rodeos too.  But my family are not horse or cow people; therefore, I never really thought about going to the rodeo.  It surprises me that I come to the Midwest to see one, but here I am.  Oh, well, as I have said before, life is strange.

The International Professional Rodeo was in town at the fair grounds.  The rodeo was complete with cowboys, cowgirls, clowns, a small-person entertainer that called himself “Pork Chop” (I am not making this up), a professional rodeo announcer (apparently this is a full time vocation), and all the required animals.

This cowboy is a champion bronc rider. He was also styling in some black and red leather chaps and matching vest. Super fancy.

I had a great time at the rodeo, it was super entertaining.  The crowd was fun and very diverse.  Lots of families with children, including the competitors.  The rodeo kids were fun to watch.  It must be great fun to grow up around the rodeo.  There were a handful of little boys in cowboy hats and boots running around in the staging area and climbing the rails.  What great stories they will have when they grow up.  It reminds me of a dear friend of mine from law school who is a cowboy (huge belt buckles and all) and used to tell stories about being a kid and having his mom decree “no roping in the house” rather than “no running” or “no basketball in the house” like my friends and me.  He also got into trouble as a kid for “roping his sister off of the back of a truck”. The dangers of a cowboy brother, I suppose.  The cowboy/rodeo culture is certainly one of a kind, very romantic I think, very fun, and pretty in its own way.

Here are some cowboys hard at work and a little cowboy watching.

I have to say that I was disappointed by the lack of female participants and by the fact that the whole thing does seem a bit cruel to the animals.  My favorite event of the three I watched (bronc riding (bare back and saddle), calf roping and steer wrestling), was the bronc riding because it seems to be less dangerous for the animal.  Also, the cowboy is taking on the danger willingly, so it seems fair.  But I only know enough to be dangerous . . . and I’d rather stay that way on this one.

The Fair Life

Farms are very Southern.  Of course, right?  It was first industry in the South after all.  Cotton, tobacco, cows, chickens and the like.  But in parts of the mountain South, like where I grew up, that is not the case.  The mountains are too steep and there is just too little flat land.  Thus the economic dependence on coal mining and timber.  So, this Southern Girl does not have a lot (any) experience with farms, crops or farm animals other than visits to my Auntie A’s animal farm in Central Virginia (cows, sheep, chickens and horses).

This ignorance of farm animals is what drew me to the Allen County Fair Grounds for the opening night if the Allen County Fair and Rodeo.  That and, well, cowboys.

Yes, yes, I have been a county fair.  My home county has a fair.  Except there is not  a commercial chicken competition or llama tent.  Instead there is a car show, quilt competition, and coal tent.  See the difference?

I arrived at the fair and was shocked that all the animals competing were right there under tents or in shell buildings.  I was like a little kid.  I immediately went to the llama tent where I met and had my picture made with a llama.  The llamas were in fenced in areas under the tent with fans blowing on them – it was over 90 with a head index of 105 – and I am sure they appreciated it.  There were these little girls, 10 and 12 or so that were handling them like professionals, of course, they had been doing this all their little lives.  They were sweet to let me pet their competition llama.

Next was the poultry tent.  Ducks, turkeys, and chickens (oh my!) all over the place.  I happened into the tent during the commercial chicken competition.  This involved a group of folks standing around a gentleman in a white lab coat.  The lab coated gentlemen inspected the chickens two at a time including turning them upside down.  I notice that that all the competitors held their chickens on one arm and the birds were very peaceful.  The birds were so still they almost seemed like statues.  I made that comment to a lady standing next to me and she informed me that the reason the birds were so still and comfortable was because of the technique used to carry them.  I was intrigued.

After the competition I followed a competitor, Daniel, and his mom, he was no more than 16, back to the cage area and asked if he could teach me how to hold a chicken.  He very kindly agreed but suggested we might use a smaller chicken.  Turns out it is easier to learn on smaller birds = a starter chicken, if you will.  Daniel pulled out this little hen and gave me directions, like a seasoned teacher.  You put the hens feet between your pointer and middle finger and middle finger and ring finger.  Then the hen breast rests on your forearm with the head pointed toward your elbow.  If the chicken starts to get agitated and flap its wings you turn it upside down by its feet and point its head toward the floor.  He demonstrated this and it worked like a charm. Daniel is an excellent teacher.

It was my turn.  Surprisingly, it went smoothly and the chicken rested right on my arm like it was at home.  It was exciting.  So much so that I insisted on a picture to prove it.  Chickens are cooler than you think.

I was sharing my chicken story with Jon from church, he and his wife are also Appalachian Refugees in FW, and he noted that it is interesting that I had to leave the mountains to come to the big city (FW is about 250,000) to learn how to hold a chicken.  Life is funny.

Speaking of cool chickens.  I have been personally familiar with 3 chickens in my life.  One Valentine’s Day my Daddy acquired three chickens as a gift for Mommy.  She (actually) likes to hear a rooster crow in the morning.  Well, in order to get a rooster to stay around you have to bring along some hens.  Dudes will be dudes.  So, these birds needed names.  My Parents let my oldest niece, we shall call her Princess, name the chickens.  So, we got Power Rangers – Aisha 1, Aisha 2, and Billy.  Sadly, the Aishas did not last long.  But Billy was around for about 5 years or so.  He ate out of our hands, knew when it was feeding time, and followed us around.  He became a pet and we enjoyed his company.  Unfortunately, he became restless (remember the ladies are gone now) and started roosting on the neighbors car and crowing at all hours of the day.  So, Billy had to go.  He is now living happily (we hope) somewhere else.  See, chickens are cool and that is the closest to farming that we ever got unless you count my mom’s small vegetable garden in the back yard flower bed.

Back to the fair, next were the cow and swine buildings.  The pigs and cows were hot.  Did you know that pigs have no sweat glands?  That is just one fun fact that I learned at the fair.  Thankfully, they have great owners who took them regularly for hose downs with water and placed fans strategically around them to ensure a breeze.  They all seemed okay with it.  The cows seemed to eat a lot and the pigs were mostly asleep.  They were super cute.  I don’t know what it is but farm animals are adorable in a gross sort of way.

The fair also offered plenty of tasty fair food, including the requisite buffet of fried offerings.  I opted for popcorn and a water.

There were horses and lots of them.  The competitors had decorated their horses stalls and each stall had a grouping of chairs sitting outside of it.  It looked as though the competitors and their families enjoyed the ability to sit and visit with other like-minded animals lovers as much as they did competing.  It is a really family oriented operation.

It was super fun to see and be around all the animals.  It was exciting to see young kids and adults developing professional (farming, livestock management, etc) and personal skills (communication and leadership skills) through these competitions.  The 4-H is a great thing.  I have a whole new respect for it.

I will most certainly go back to the fair.  It was good, clean family fun.

Pretty Bridges

“When you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind.  Like a bridge over troubled water.”  Paul Simon.

The Queen likes to ride. She likes it so much that now she goes to the garage door rather than the front door when we prepare to go for a walk.  She is a bossy dog.  The problem is that there are only so many destinations appropriate for a 50 pound border collie.  So, in order to get The Queen the riding fix that she insists upon, we hit the road on Saturdays or after work on the weekdays for some sightseeing. And sometimes we just go for the ride itself. Yes, really, I do this for my dog.

One such adventure took us to see my first covered bridge.  We left home on a Saturday afternoon and cruised up (windows halfway down and sunroof open, that is how she rolls) to Spencerville, Indiana, frighteningly close to the Ohio line.  Spencerville is a brief stop on Route 1.  Just off of Route 1 – follow the sign – is the Spencerville Covered Bridge.

It was constructed and has been in use is 1873 and it spans the St. Joseph River.  It underwent a major renovation in 1981 and it is still used but only for tourist traffic.  The new road that bypasses it is within sight.

I have become quite the popular story teller at work.  At the office most of the employees gather at noon to dine and I regale folks with my weekend adventures.  Remember, I like to talk and I am the baby of my family – I am used to people listening to me and acting like what I say is worth hearing.  Apparently, in four months, when you know no one and care for only a dog, you can see things that some people haven’t managed to see in a decade or more.   I was telling of my visit to the Spencerville Covered Bridge when I was informed that there was another covered bridge nearby.  So, I set out to make a covered bridge comparison.

The North Manchester Covered Bridge, built for the third time (it burned twice) in 1872, spans the Eel River and is located in North Manchester, Indiana (also home of Manchester College).  N. Manchester is about 40 minutes west of FW.

The Spencerville bridge is a bit more scenic but that is because it is not used regularly and is remotely located. The N. Manchester Bridge is on Mill Road, which sees daily traffic and that alone is pretty neat.  But for the pedestrian, the N. Manchester bridge has a walkway on one side for folks crossing the bridge, also neat.

The bridges are both pretty.  They are well preserved and their age certainly increases the interest and attractiveness value.  They are like old red barns (which are plentiful in Northeast Indiana) – there is just something romantic (enter Clint Eastwood from Bridges of Madison County) and charming about them that makes them hard not to like or appreciate.

It is odd.  I have been all over the south and never seen a covered bridge, although they are there.  These bridges are not just a Midwest thing.   Although, if the purpose of the roof is to protect the bridge workings from weather they certainly served an important purpose in the Midwest.

The Queen was not nearly as impressed with the covered bridges.  But she did enjoy the ride.

A River Runs Through South Whitley

There is a little town near FW called South Whitley.  It is a super small, pretty little Main Street Town right on Route 14.  If you are there take a minute to stop and dine at the Brownstone Cafe. It is an excellent spot. Great salads, sandwiches, and a sinfully good dessert selection.

Also, just south of town is the Eel River.  It is pretty too.

Pure Michigan?

Yes, I have ventured north into Michigan.  It was a successful adventure to be documented in a later post.  What welcomed me to this lovely state? A gigantic sign (actually two) reading “Pure Michigan”.  Really?  What does this mean? What is the alternative?  Is there an option to enter tainted Michigan?  I know it is not nice to mock but I really do not understand state mottos and slogans.  These sayings are rarely clever or even accurate.  In this case this sign tells me nothing about Michigan.  It also does not prompt me to want to whip out my smartphone and start googling “Pure Michigan”.

This communication gap is sad because based on what I have read (Ann Arbor, Traverse City, the UP, New Buffalo) and experienced so far (super cute Marshall, Michigan) there are cool things to do and nice people on this peninsula.  In fact, I spent the day recently with a family from Michigan and they are awesome folks – kind folks who are into good music, good food, and good fun.  I hope that is what “Pure Michigan” means.  Who knows?  Maybe the slogan should come with a glossary.  The good news is that I am excited and looking forward to checking out Michigan while on my Midwest adventure.  I will do my best to ignore the signs.

To be fair, Virginia’s slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers” is not much better.  Over 400 years of history and that is what the Commonwealth gets? Maybe we should just stick with “Mother of Presidents”.  Frankly, it is worse when you hear the tune accompanying the words Virginia is for lovers in the commercials.  Although, the shirts are cool.

My very favorite and, in my opinion, the most accurate of all the state mottos or slogans is for West Virginia.  Because it is, in fact, “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia”.  Mr. Denver sang a song about it and it is a classic.

Lake Jaunt 2011

In order to escape the July 4th fireworks barrage, The Queen and I decided get out of town.  As it turns out, Northeastern Indiana is the land of 101 lakes. Who knew?  I did not.  So, I looked at a map.  Sure enough, there are little lakes everywhere between South Bend and the Ohio state line to the east, the Michigan state line to the north and Fort Wayne to the south.  So, you say lake, we say go.  And go we did.

If you do not believe me, check it out – http://www.lakes101.org/.  These are not just ponds of water, they are full on, pretty blue, busy with boats, big ole houses lining the shore, and cute fellows carrying fishing poles lakes.

Stop number one on the July 4th Lake Jaunt was to The Village at Winona on Winona Lake.  The village is adorable and filled with shops featuring local art (more on that in the near future), jewelry and the like.  The village sits on a canal separating two sections of the lake.  There is a bakery, coffee shop, an outdoor outfitters store and two nice restaurants.  You could tell that at the time of our visit the locals were enjoying a nice quiet evening before the chaos of the holiday began.  It is a super quaint little place right outside Warsaw, Indiana.  In fact, it reminds me of Smith Mountain Lake, although Smith Mountain is much bigger, near Roanoke, Virginia.  It has some cutesy little villages on the water as well.  Both places are worth a visit and get my votes for pretty.

The Canal at Winona Lake.

This is the main channel of Winona Lake.

A view of Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.

Stop number two was Pokagon State Park.  Turns out it is pronounced Po-Kay-gon not Po-kah-gon.  A great big thanks to Sister Mary at church for straightening me out.  Sometimes my Appalachian tongue is not a good translator.  In fact, at times I wonder if I am all that good at speaking my own language.  But people continue to tell me it is charming, so again, I am keeping it.

Pokagon is a on Lake James and Snow Lake.  It gets its name from two leaders of the Potawatomi Indian tribe, Simon and Leopold Pokagon.  The Potawatomi tribe owned and transferred about one million acres of land, including what is now Chicago, to the federal government by treaty for the bargain price of three cents per acre.  The least we could do is name a park for them.  I am very good about reading maps and brochures. Anyway, it is a cool park.  It has a very busy beach on Lake James, which is a popular, loud, fun lake.  There are lots of lovely lake homes covering the shores so there is a high level of activity here. It lives on the web at http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2973.htm. In fact, it is so busy that there was a mass of about 25 boats tied together and floating during the midday together in the middle of the lake.  Can you say floating trailer park.

Pokagon also has a Toboggan Run.  Honestly, I had no idea what this was until I read about it.  Where I am from a toboggan is a hat.  And here, the hat that I call a toboggan is a sock hat.  Tomay)to, toma(h)to, sock hat, toboggan, let’s call the whole thing off.  It looks fun, but I cannot really tell how it works? I am going to have to make a return visit in winter to check it out.  I do know by reading the warning signs that you could lose your sock hat while riding it.

Our final stop on the July 4th Lake Jaunt was the Chain O’ Lakes State Park.  Fortunately, this one I can pronounce properly.  This park defines peaceful and green.  The park is made up of lakes linked together by channels.  The super cool thing about the 101 lakes in Northeast Indiana is that they were formed by glaciers.  The glaciers melted about 15 thousand years ago and left behind these lakes and flatlands.  Interesting, for sure and . . . you guessed, pretty.  Chain O’ Lakes is very lush and filled with walking trails (although not well marked) and picnic areas.  You can boat, fish, and enjoy the beach.  Although, the beach at Chain O’ Lakes Sand Lake is considerably smaller than at Lake James, but it is also less crowded.  There are no private homes on the lakes in Chain O’ Lakes park so it is very quiet, green and lovely.  The Queen thoroughly enjoyed herself.  The squirrels, not so much.  Check out Chain O’ Lakes at http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2987.htm.

This shot was taken from Trail 5 around Sand Lake. Even a dead tree can be pretty, even beautiful.

Her Highness enjoyed the green grass, the peaceful lake view, and the sunshine.

Yes, yes, my southern friends, there are lakes in the mountain South.  Many of them, in fact.  Not quite 101 but plenty.  In Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee there are lovely lakes.  Most are TVA lakes, so they don’t have the super cool glacier history but they do produce electricity, which is awesome.  It takes all kinds.  The obvious difference is that in the mountain South, the hills appear to shoot right up out of the water, which is pretty.  A great example of this is South Holston Lake in Abingdon, Virginia or any of the TVA lakes in the  foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains near Knoxville, Tennessee.  Otherwise, it seems that most lakes are created alike.  Thankfully, they are all over the place for all the kids to enjoy.

The lake at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia. The mountains rise out of the water and make a beautiful frame for the sky. Check it out. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hun.shtml