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Walking through the hollow, deserted campus, October had arrived. Black birds wove through the dry foliage as dark clouds ominously threatened rain with bitter gusts. As one approached Dalton however the mood turned from haunting to festive as pockets of crowds started to appear and the distant whining of bagpipes floated over Peters. The campus had gone Celtic.
The rustic nature of the festival became immediately apparent. Depending on where you stood at any given time you were subject to the greasy stench of smoked flesh or the distinctly more American Frosted Flakes odor of funnel cakes and deep fried Oreos. Vendors peddled overcoats and clan tartans, framed family crests, and occasional decorative weaponry. Massive dogs milled through the respectably large crowd and, in a tiny paddock, a pair of woolen Highland Cattle, courtesy of Le Chayim Farm, grazed.
While occasionally reminiscent of a Renaissance fair, what with the garish costumes and epic cases of facial hair, the festival managed to avoid feeling tacky. How this was accomplished is beyond me; perhaps it is partially the result of the conveniently themed weather that spat icily on the crowd in a bracingly damp Celtic manner.
At one point, the leaky clouds turned to a zipping glittering shower forcing the bundled public to herd themselves towards the exits, causing the band at the time to quip, “Where’s everybody going?!” Perhaps under the bright warmth of a clear day the affair would have seemed more ridiculous but the icy demeanor of nature granted respectability to the Scottish culture displayed, not to mention envy at their comfortably warm ceremonial costumes.
Despite a predominance of outside vendors and organizations the RU faculty and student body made their proper appearances, the Jewelry Guild sold its wares and Dr. Richard Bay of the Art Department lent his usual charm to entertaining visiting children in a crafts booth.
In addition a running series of cultural demonstrations that served as useful diversions, a shepherd displayed a sheep herding technique with a pair of startlingly intelligent sheepdog commanded by a series of whistles and verbal commands.
Sporadic bursts of cheers sprung from a gathered crowd viewing stocky men chucking logs. A young boy in theatrical costume looked vaguely bored snapping a braided whip while a sign nearby promised child-on-child combat at 12, 1, and 3 p.m.
The traditional food was in full swing as well, oddly more affordable than the decidedly more local fare. Scottish Cottage offered heaping plates of barbecued meat for five dollars, both delicious and wildly dangerous to my health.
Another Scottish cuisine booth knowingly drew curious tourists close by offering free samples of infamous haggis, tasting like a thick stew-like chili. House of Douglas Bakery offered the Empire Shortbread Biscuit, two cookie-like biscuits cemented with strawberry paste, crumbly and creamily sweet.
While bracing and exciting, the weather was cruel to those assembled that had only just days ago worn shorts and low slung tank tops in the August sun.
Despite this the crowd seemed engaged and entertained, willing to risk the threat of an Arctic downpour to enjoy fried sugar, wailing bagpipes, and the company of each other.