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IPE 2020 - err...

In the category of things I learned today, there is a baseball diamond at the IPE Fairgrounds in Armstrong! Who knew. In all the years I have attended the IPE -- drooled over cowboys and horses, cheered at the strength of draft horses, the ferocity of bucking bulls, the undeniable crazy of bull riders -- I have never once noticed.

I'm on holidays, and awhile back I lost the bracelet I bought at a craft fair two summers ago. I've wanted to replace it, so last night I googled Okanagan Fruit Markets. Occurring on Saturday in near enough proximity was one in Kelowna and one in Armstrong. I've been to the one in Kelowna, so I chose Armstrong. It wasn't until I was on the premises that I realized in a pre-Covid world, this would have been IPE week, 2020.

When I arrived in Armstrong, I was pleased because I got a parking spot directly across from the entrance to the park. For those who have ever attended the IPE, you get it. I also really needed to find a bathroom. It made me smile when, asking the first booth operator where I might find one, she pointed and replied, "Oh. It's a bit of a walk. It's at the end of the Poultry Barn."

Gotta love it.

So, I hoofed it over, and that was when I realized what week it was and that I had arrived at an IPE-less IPE. And yet... the place was packed. There were long rows of booths set up, and live

country music playing, and I had to think, it's still (kinda, almost, a lot like) the IPE -- just back to her original roots.

The thought made me happy. Even sans cowboys and quarter horses.

The other day I told my mom, I feel like people are adapting. We are figuring out how to still do life socially in a coronavirus world. This conversation was on day one of my vacation (today is day four), when I stopped to swim at Kekuli Bay.

Kekuli Bay is a boat launch and a provincial campground. I like it because it has a beach that is never too crowded with the clearest, jade green water I have found in all my years living and swimming in the Okanagan. That day, there were several family clusters at the beach, but each little group was separated from one another by significant distance. Then, as I was leaving, little duos of bikers passed me on the rail trail. We waved and smiled and wished each other good day. And I drove away feeling, maybe we've figured out how to still do the Okanagan lifestyle -- but do it safely.

Today in Armstrong felt much the same. Full disclosure, I'd forgotten about the whole North Okanagan resistance to mask wearing thing, and I could count on both fingers the number of people I saw wearing masks, but other than that, this Farmer's Market really felt like, hey, the human race is going to survive this after all. And so, in their fashion, will our traditions.

I mean, there are differences, issues, situations if you will. The last time I wrote a blog about a Farmer's Market, the conversations I'd had with the booth operators involved how much garlic they would be bringing to the next fair. This time, I spoke with a couple who made jewelry. They import a stone called Larimer from the Dominican Republic. The stone is an aqua blue colour, and, like Jade, the darker shades are more valuable. What people really look for are the 'bubbles' in the stone -- since these white and red splashes look like the ocean.

The couple I spoke with are the only people who import the stone, and wish they had brought more back, since now they can't get back to the Dominican to get more. I ask if they have spoken with all their friends over there, and they say, yes, everyone is safe, but they did have to contend with martial law. Everyone was confined at home, and only the women were allowed to go out to the store, and only some days. The couple I am speaking with got home to Canada in February, so they missed all that. They say they didn't even know what was going on in the rest of the world, because Covid had not yet reached the Dominican at that point.

Another woman -- also making the trek past the Poultry Barn -- tells me that Armstrong has a Farmer's Market every year, but generally they do not hold it at the IPE grounds, since the preparation for the fair happens in advance. I say, it's really nice to see the market here, mention my back-to-roots idea, and she agrees. Then I say, must be a big economic hit for your town, though, not to have the IPE this year. She shrugs. "Well, it has just made the market busier. There are more bakers, more crafters. People have time this year they haven't had otherwise."

Fair enough.

I've always like Armstrong. It's this little verdant valley of cornfields, hayfields, pastures of grazing cows and horses. My kind of place. Today I think, I like farmers. Hearty stock, all of you.

I like the life-goes-on vibe that walking around these grounds gives me. I mean, this year, there are booths selling masks, and I make purchases at both stands, since to my way of thinking living life post Covid 19 still means using your brain to stay safe and healthy. But I also buy the bracelet I was hoping for, and an enormous, delicious, chocolate puffed wheat square. Mmmm, vibing childhood.

The barns and the grandstands may be empty -- and that sucks, sure -- but there's always next year. For today, we adapt -- get back to basics as it were. I get to wander inside the stalls where last year Clydesdales were stabled -- inspiring me to write Feathers in the Snow. And, God willing, live to see cowboys another day.

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