This story appeared in the 2021 fall issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener in response to the theme “first frost.”
Transferring to a new high school brings a world of new traditions, opportunities and experiences. My move from a rural public high school in New Hampshire to the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in the even more bucolic Limestone, Maine, certainly met these criteria. My intent was to jump on every opportunity to try something new, whether gleaning in potato fields or building a quinzhee in the snow. So when a trip to the Common Ground Country Fair was offered, I of course signed up. I had no idea what to expect, other than that we would be camping under a tarp with sleeping bags provided by the school and that we were asked to volunteer at least one shift. The fine print stated three shifts (essentially working the entire time we were there) would be rewarded with a free hat. Since safety patrol was an option, I assumed this hat would have an official “safety” logo. In my 16-year-old head, working 12 hours for a $20 hat that I didn’t even know existed seemed like a great deal.
After the four-hour bus ride south to the Fair, those who urgently needed to use the bathroom or needed to check in for work shifts were whisked away while others stayed back and unloaded supplies. Filling in where help was needed, I made transactions for bags, shirts and aprons as quickly and friendlily as possible in the Country Store for four hours, grabbed a quick bite in the Common Kitchen, then showed up for the main event: security detail.
As the darkness settled in, my co-security detail Rick, a kind man in his 40s who had volunteered for years, shared that our main job was turning out lights to save energy and allow campers to sleep peacefully. As we traversed the fairgrounds late into the night and my fatigue and the frosty air set in, we stopped at the school campsite to scout where I would finally be able to rest and warm up once the second shift ended at 12:30 a.m. Somehow, no sleeping bags were available. Rick’s quick problem solving and appeal to humanity set in. He led me to the dumpsters to find clean cardboard to insulate me from the ground. Rick had certainly fulfilled his role in providing for the safety of the fairgoers. I, on the other hand, decided — after shivering all night until a sleeping bag became available at 6 a.m. when someone headed off to the 5K race — not to report to my third shift to earn my hat. Instead, I took a few hours to warm up and sleep. I returned back to my school’s dorm that night with a new appreciation for a roof and a bed.