Sunday, September 7, 2008

World Sheep Festival

Every year on Labor Day Weekend, the World Sheep Festival takes place in Bethel, Missouri. When I lived in Kirksville, Missouri, this was an event not to be missed! For $3 you could get a weekend pass (which included a souvenir button) and see all the events: sheep dog trials, sheep to shawl competition, mutton busting, plus all sorts of sheep merchandise and lamb dishes (lamb burgers, kabobs, BBQ lamb sandwiches).

This year, I passed up a trip to Minnesota with my family to attend the World Sheep Festival. (Those who know me well know that next to Austria and Iowa, my favorite spot on earth is Minnesota, and I haven't been there since I was 17). I went to Bethel, Missouri instead, with every intention of reliving the Sheep Festivals of my past. I wanted to take a picture of sheep in spandex (sounds a little kinky, but it's just the way the exhibitors keep the wool clean before a show) and I wanted to buy a new pair of lambskin moccasins.

Bethel is about 160 miles from Iowa City, mostly on narrow two-lane highways with virtually no cell phone reception. So much for meeting up with one of my friends at the festival! When I arrived, I realized why no admission was being charged this year. It was a poor spectacle... about a quarter of the size it used to be. Only about half the stalls were filled in the sheep barn, there were no sheep in spandex (the lamb and goat show was the day before) and the only slippers in sight were a men's size 12, made of alpaca wool. In fact, nearly half of all the exhibits and merchandise at the SHEEP festival were angora rabbit, angora goat, llama or alpaca. They used to have a fiber arts contest, where women were judged on the clothes they made of wool as they paraded through the show barn with their pet sheep (a highlight of the festival). As it was, I ran out of things to look at after about 15 minutes.

But determined to make the most of my trip, I first took in the sheep dog trials which are always entertaining.
I stayed for the mutton busting, where small children wearing padding and helmets take a tour around the ring on a real live sheep (hoo boy...). I ate a lamb kabob which was o.k. Then I went to the parade. Of the 25 entries, probably half of them were political candidates stumping for votes with candy and election literature. There were only four sheep in the whole parade. And the C.S.A. was represented, complete with Confederate battle flag and a bumper sticker that read "Keep it flying." For the record, Missouri was considered a northern state, but there continues to be a population sympathetic to the Old South and all that implies. Here, on cue, one of my naturalized citizen friends would put her hand over her heart and sing in her most sarcastic tone, "I'm proud to be an American."

Bethel is an old German colony, and they keep their traditions alive with a volunteer oompah-band that also participated in the parade:
After the parade, I'd pretty much *done* the Sheep Festival, so I cut over to Kirksville, taking pictures along the road. I visited with my friends Christine and Rowan, then headed back north, taking blurry pictures of an otherwise fantastic sunset, and arriving in Iowa City about 9:00 pm. I'll leave you with one of the best shots of the day (works nicely as a desktop!):

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