EDITORIAL: See you at the fair

CALL THIS AN UNPAID advertisement or boosterism, cheerleading, blatant self-promotion or in-your-face marketing. However you look at it, I guarantee with absolute certainty that each and every one of you will have the time of your life — a never-to-be-forgotten, simply amazing experience — at the 171st annual Columbia County Fair.

And if for any reason you don’t go home entranced by this panorama of pleasures, let me assure you that the problem was not the fair. Oh no, my friends, the problem is that you needed to stay longer and see more. Think about it: You’ve already missed a day or two as you’re reading these very words! What are you waiting for?

The statistics say that the fair doesn’t need my hucksterism; it already ranks as the largest gathering in the county each year. The Columbia County Agricultural Society, the non-profit group that stages the event, estimates that attendance between the opening day and the finale on Labor Day will reach 60,000. That’s nearly equal to the number of people who live in Columbia County, according to the 2010 Census. Hmmmm. Makes you wonder about the 3,096 county residents who don’t show up at the fair, doesn’t it? Undoubtedly some have a late summer cold, a few get stuck in traffic on the way back from vacation and a certain number are unavoidably detained in Greenport as guests of the County Jail.

A county fair sounds like an ancient ritual when you measure it against the spasmodic ways people gather in this era of “flash mobs.” But this fair doesn’t feel like some scripted living history exhibit. Agriculture still matters here, and while it has made way for more entertainment, concessions and commerce over the years, there’s something reassuring about a place where people of all types are welcome to assemble in a safe place for a few hours at the end of summer…  a place where they can admire weird chickens and wholesome cows, root for neighbors to smash each other’s cars, and risk losing their blooming onions on carnival rides built to train astronauts.

There’s probably an egghead somewhere who would explain the fair as a socially vital occasion arising from traditions that remain fresh and relevant. Yuuuck! That kind of blather misses the point. The fair is fun.

We like fun. But we’ll be at the fair because, like a lot of other businesses, we know that there is no better place in this county to connect with the public in person. Come by and say hello. We want to meet people who read The Columbia Paper as well as those who haven’t heard about us. Sure, email is efficient and phone contact remains essential. But we benefit most from hearing face-to-face what you do and don’t like about the paper. And what you tell us affects what we publish.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right this way for the fair on Route 66 in Chatham. There’s plenty of parking and lots to see and enjoy. Not only that, when you leave you’ll still be right here in Columbia County. That’s the definition of a good deal.

Remembering Matthew Asbornsen

WORD ARRIVED THIS WEEK that physician and former Stuyvesant Supervisor Matt Asbornsen died a few days ago in Maine. I knew him only through news coverage and from his phone calls and letters, some meant for publication and others intended mostly to share ideas. Though brief, our interactions impressed on me what a thoughtful person he was and how deeply committed to the well being of his community and the nation.

During my time he made news with the land he and his wife gave to his town for a park. He was determined to see that town government took full advantage of the property for its intended purpose. He wrote of his concern about the lack of progress, but I never sensed despair, nor did he belittle the officials involved.

Restraint, persistence and patience are admirable in a politician. They are essential to the practice of good medicine. Those qualities made it easy for me to picture him as a gifted healer.

He remained a force in county politics as late as last fall, when his endorsement mattered, though he had moved away.

Friends, patients and constituents experienced firsthand his judgment, engagement, compassion and generosity. The rest of us should remember that the county is a better place because he was here.

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