The Conventioneer goes alpaca crazy

The Howard County Fairgrounds were packed this weekend with the adorably soft puffs of alpacas, those sweet, tiny cousins of camels and llamas, most associated with the Andes Highlands. These cuties were from considerably closer, in town from all over the state for the Maryland Alpaca and Fleece Festival. Admission was free, and alpaca food was just $1 a bag, enough to get an adult-sized hand licked and lipped and snuggled quite a few times by a fuzzy muppet with scraggles in her eyes. Vendors hawked fleecy handfuls of magical alpaca clouds, hand-painted yarns spun from the most fantastical fibers in the natural world, and all the rest: stuffed animals, finger puppets (what's cuter than a tiny frog puppet? that's right—a tiny frog puppet made out of alpaca), hand-knitted socks, shawls, and sweaters, and various sundry items like felted shoe inserts and soaps. Alpacas are so flipping cute, and they make fiber with all the properties of wool, except softer and more lightweight. This festival was a knitter's paradise, reflected in the demographics of the crowd; several men wore buttons marking them as members of the "Spousal Support Committee." I asked a vendor what his button meant: "Did your spouse bring you here? No? You aren't a man? No? Then I don't have to tell you anything." Point taken, kind sir, I'll just go back to petting the alpacas and fondling their wispy soft wares. Three outside barns hosted live alpacas along with vendors and a few out-of-place sheep and goats. Indoor spaces hosted vendors of alpaca goods, except for one. A purist might call foul, but a building full of wine, chocolate, and angora bunnies—well, this festival-goer was perfectly happy with that little break in the action. The last angora bunny sold on Saturday night, but her new owners hadn't picked her up yet, and that meant getting to squizzle that fluffy bunny against neck and cheek, and oh, what a wonderful festival this was. More angora bunnies will be available for purchase at the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival May 3-4, 2014. If we're lucky, that alpaca with the Jeff Spicoli hairdo will be there, too.

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