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Today is Friday, March 7th, 2014. We were married 986 days ago, on June 25th, 2011.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Rural Decathlon

It's Labor Day weekend, and as I was driving to VT yesterday, I came through Rutland.  It was busier than normal, with a large motorcycle rally and the opening night of the Vermont State Fair.

I used to go to the Humboldt County Fair, which was full of household crafts competitions — best pickles, best eggs, best quilt — and hundreds of earnest FFA kids (Future Farmers of America) showing their cows and sheep and rabbits. 
Lambie Jammies, the FFA equivalent of a car cover before the show-ring judging.
Nora and I were thinking this morning about the kinds of things that are shown at the fair.  In most cases, it's the pros and semi-pros who win the awards — the best-in-show photo comes from a professional photographer, the best-in-show woodwork comes from a pro woodworker.  It seems counter to the spirit of the old-school state fair judging, in which a farmer's butter or beer or pie wasn't competing with some commercial outfit.

So we devised a decathlon of rural skills, and the winner would need to do strong work in each of the ten categories in order to be competitive.  It would be open to whole households, so that it wouldn't be divided into traditional men's and women's fields.  So, ready?  Here goes.

Event 1 — Heat the House.  Four cords of firewood, self-felled, self-split, and stacked for drying.  Judging based on uniformity of size, evenness of stacking, and number of remaining fingers among all team members.

Event 2 — Feed the Guests.  A dinner for eight consisting of nothing that was not grown or raised directly by the household.  Extra points for having built the table and chairs or woven the cloth for the table.

Event 3 — Start the Tractor.  A 1971 John Deere 7020 diesel tractor will be disabled in unknown ways by a professional mechanic, and the contestant must diagnose and repair the problems without the use of off-site parts.  However, unlimited amounts of wire and welding gas will be allowed.

Event 4 — Breakfast Treats.  Each team must produce fifty gallons of maple syrup, two hundred pound of honey, and three cases of quart-jars of wild berry jam, all from lands owned by their neighbors.  Extra points for having negotiated harvesting rights with more than ten landowners.

Event 5 — The Whole Shebang.  Three deer and ten brook trout will be field-weighed, and prizes awarded to the teams making productive use of the greatest percentage of total weight.  Extra points for taking the deer during bow or muzzle-load seasons.

Event 6 — Shroom Lab.  Each participant will be presented with a bushel of assorted wild mushrooms, and must successfully identify which are edible.  Participants will then make and eat a mushroom risotto from their selections (accompanied by a glass of red wine), and will be observed carefully for ill effects over the two subsequent days.

Event 7 — This Old House.  Teams will be assigned a house built prior to 1825, and must successfully install code-compliant heating, electrical, water and septic systems for less than $10 per square foot.

Event 8 — Off-Road Driving.  Teams will show skills at lawn mowing, driveway plowing, backing utility trailers between barrels up narrow paths, and driving a volunteer fire truck up the ridgeline to some flatlander's vacation house. 

Event 9 — Kit and Kaboodle.  Participants will raise and shear a fiber animal (goat, sheep, llama, alpaca, or rabbit allowed); clean and separate the fleece; dye the wool using only home-concentrated natural dyes; spin and ply 500 yards of triple-strand yarn; and a) weave an 8' x 10' kitchen rug, b) knit two sweaters, two pairs of socks and a union suit (flap optional), and c) make Christmas presents of their choice for at least ten family members.  Extra points for knitting Lambie Jammies for an animal that the fleece was originally from.

Event 10 — The Community Member.  Participants must show involvement in each of the following areas of service:  help with planting and/or a harvest, help with a barn raising, help with a funeral and/or wedding, a minimum of eight potluck dishes and six bake-sale contributions, run for town office, play a musical instrument at a town fair or similar event (and being invited back to play that instrument the following year), march or drive in the Memorial Day parade, and provide a minimum of four meals for a family experiencing significant illness.

Nora and I know more households than we might have imagined who could actually qualify by doing decent work in all ten of these areas.  It seems like a competition more suited to rural life than just making a really nice apple pie.

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