Perhaps the only thing better than waking up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday is not waking up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. But I had to see a man about a cow.

I sleepily stumbled out of bed and into Grace Hopper College’s disappointingly meager continental breakfast, my standard blueberry bagel with Nutella staring at me pathetically while I regarded it with an equally ambivalent animosity. I sat in semi-silence with my equally droopy-eyed companions while the quiet of the dining hall crushed any half-hearted attempts at conversation.

That silence ended as the coffee kicked in, and soon my Jovial Companions (JCs) and I were in the back of the classic Mom Van (courtesy of one JC’s mother), on our way to the New England State Fair.

The fair, or the Big E, as it is colloquially known, at first baffled me. As a midwesterner in Connecticut, the concept of such small states is alien; you can drive south from Chicago for six hours and still be in Illinois, but if you blink in New England, you miss Rhode Island entirely.

My JCs and I bundled up in our Yale gear, and besides the guy running one of the rubber ducky booths who yelled “Go Harvard!” (you suck, sir), I’d rate the State Fair experience as a Would Recommend.

State fairs on the surface look like any convention or concert, with crowds milling about eating fatty fried foods. But as I stood amid the throng, I thought not about where I was, but about where everything was from.

Maple candy from Vermont and kettle corn from New Hampshire, two states that seem like one cleaved by a fur trapper’s sword. Lemonade from Connecticut with an appreciatively thick layer of sugar at the bottom, which mixed well with the hot dog that was definitely not worth the $6 I paid. Crab cakes and a smorgasbord of clam-derived foods from Maine.

When you taste maple candy, your first thought might be “shootthat’sgood” but if you’re anything like me, you also think about the origins of that candy, the maple trees that stem from the dirt, the ground that keeps dear several thousand years of history and a couple million more. And when you consider that, you go further, like how the concrete beneath your shoes is a conglomeration of so many stones from so many lands, and that when you get right down to it, you’re standing atop mountains.

Today, almost every manufactured good is cobbled together, its pieces crafted and brought together by numerous countries and regions. There may have been a purity to living on the frontier back in days of old, when your clothes came from your sheep and your house from the surrounding forest, but there is something to be said about the mixed origins of this day and age. My clothes are not my clothes; they are from whomever Old Navy decided to employ on a day many moons ago. My hair is not my hair; it’s whatever chemicals Redken decided to dump into their shampoo.

And as these seemingly disparate things gather, so do people. People at the state fair gathered on Saturday because of their collective love of corn dogs and stupid-looking cow hats, but those same people gather elsewhere across the nation and the world, whether to fight injustice or just watch a game with their buddies in a poorly lit basement.

Beyond the cliche that “humans are social animals,” gathering is what drives people to ask, “What’s all the commotion?” It’s what causes me to forget my micromanaged-down-to-the-minute calendar as soon as I hear music wafting over from Cross Campus, and it’s also what led me to speak with a Yale security guard this past Monday, as we gazed at the lights of Old Campus with a mutual respect for the unusual calm that pervaded the quad.

At the fair, I was a cell within the great organism of the Big E, eating its food, contributing to the buzz and even wearing one of those stupid cow hats. But cells join to form tissues, and tissues to organs, and organs to bodies. Though one of the many, I did not feel lost in the maelstrom of activity, but felt part of some larger, some unquantifiable group whose existence shone in the joined, sweaty hands of couples and in the shouts of the roller coaster riders.

Even if I had nothing in common with the guy selling grandfather clocks or with the sullen ticket collector of the Tilt-a-Whirl, we were still connected, as long as the dust on our shoes was of this earth. And even if I didn’t belong there, there were so many other faces to meet and elbows to brush that while the exhausted part of me was glad to go home, some deeper part wished I had stayed.

Valerie Pavilonis  | valerie.pavilonis@yale.edu