By Marada Cook
Summer Higgins is 13; her brother Caleb is eleven. Both have attended the Common Ground Fair for the past four years, 30 minutes from their home in Monroe.
“Have you ever heard of Donald Nickerson,” Caleb asks suddenly, “He’s my grandfather.” Nickerson, a veteran horse farmer and fair volunteer, is well known for his lifelong experience with horse logging and for his reputation as a ‘real Mainer.’ He and his grandson share their accent.
“Well,” Caleb goes on, “My grandfather thought that if I had a pair of steers, it would make me more patient, cause, I’m not that patient. I just talk out loud at school and I don’t wait to raise my hand and stuff, so I’m sort of hyperactive. With my steers, it made me more patient with things because it takes a long time to teach them how to learn new commands.” Caleb taught his steers ‘gee’ and ‘haw,’ ‘whoa’ and ‘back-up.’ He entered and took second place in one of last year’s log-twitching competitions. “Then when I wasn’t doing that I just helped haul some other people’s [animals’] poop away,” he says.
He also volunteers to pick up and recycle trash. “I just like to walk around by myself, or me and my cousin.” Caleb likes the Fair because friends of his family give him beef jerky, handcrafted wooden pens, applause. “I get a lot of attention because I wear stilts around: I can walk on them for like three hours straight … until I can’t feel my legs anymore. Then I take them off.”
His sister Summer also volunteers to pick up trash. She and her friend Kelley work as a team, hauling carts of bottles, cans, compost and trash back to the recycling tent. After a long day of horse demonstrations, volunteerism, teamwork and stilt-walking, Summer and Kelley sleep in the back of Nickerson’s pickup truck. Caleb sleeps in the horse stalls with his grandfather. “Kind of smelly,” he says, “but I’m used to it.
“It’s pretty fun. You know, it’s like, really cool.” He lowers his voice. “My sister, she calls it a hippie fair – I don’t know why. I’ll ask her.” He shouts into the other room – ‘Hey Summah! The girl wants to know why you call it a hippie fair.” He answers back for her. “She says it’s because hippies go there. Cause she says a lot of people are really in tune with nature and their surroundings.”
Summer gets on the phone to straighten things out. “I like that everyone can go to the Fair to learn what is really about what.” Apparently Common Ground hippies – and the Higgins’ grandparents – have figured it out. According to Caleb, Don Nickerson is “really like my inspiration, sort of.”
Summer says, “The whole Fair thing, and what my grandparents do, is really what it’s about. Being able to use animals and not have all this stuff that isn’t really necessary. The Fair just helps show you the necessary in life.”
“And the hippy,” I can’t help adding. I know what she means.
“Yeah,” she says automatically, and then in a more certain tone, “Yeah.”