Of all the Labor Day traditions, my favorite is attending the Blue Hill Fair in Blue Hill, Maine. A tradition since 1891, it is where E.B. White saw the pigs from Zuckerman’s farm and was inspired to write Charlotte’s Web. Zuckerman’s still bring their famous pigs to the fair.
It is the quintessential country fair where 4-H kids are judged on projects ranging from carrots to cows. There’s a midway full of delicious treats, games and carnival rides, concerts, harness racing, women’s skillet toss, and anything you can do with wild blueberries. We always plan our time there around two events, the sheepdog trials and the horse pulling.
I am fascinated watching the sheepdogs herd 4-5 sheep through several gates and pens with the only instruction from the shepherd being various whistles. The crowd is completely quiet while they work, with only the occasional gasp or moan when a sheep breaks away and spoils the dog’s work.
But my absolute favorite thing to watch is the horse-pulling competition. Giant draft horses, mostly Blegians, compete in pulling skids piled with granite slabs, 10’s of thousands of pounds. They compete in two- and three-horse teams. In the timed competition, the horses pull the same amount of weight back and forth through the show ring. The team who pulls the greatest distance wins. In the second competition, more weight is added each time the team successfully pulls the skid 15 feet. The team who pulls the most weight, wins. Most of these horses are still used for work. They may clear granite boulders from farmer’s fields or pull huge logs out of the dense Maine woods where mechanical equipment can’t go.
The teams come into the ring prancing and snorting, anticipating what they are about to do. The driver backs the team into place, and as soon as they are hooked to the skid, the horses take off, digging into the loose dirt, every muscle pulsing. Their power and beauty is breathtaking. The driver stops the team every so often, allowing them to catch their breath and give their muscles a rest. As soon as the driver tells them to go, they are off again. These gentle giants will pull until their driver tells them to stop or until the weight is just too much.
Finally, the driver unhooks the team, and they prance out of the ring, relieved of the burden they have been carrying. To cool down, the horses pull their driver’s around on skids outfitted with old car bench seats. They clearly enjoy this. What a relief to pull just a few hundred pounds! I am always reminded of Jesus words, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
We will miss the fair this year as we anxiously await the arrival of our next two grandchildren. But, hopefully, in the years to come, we will be able to share this special tradition with them.