Fall is perfect for a visit to Maryland's Eastern Shore. The landscape is still touched with autumn color, and flocks of wildfowl overhead almost blot out the sun. Next weekend, in addition to the rewards of nature, the annual Waterfowl Festival brings visitors to Easton from all over the country. As the shore's Colonial capital, Easton is known for its many charms, but during Waterfowl weekend the mood is especially festive. Streets are closed to traffic and shuttle buses operate between outlying parking areas and the many festival sites. Musicians wander about town offering impromptu entertainment, and street vendors sell oysters, crab cakes and hot spiced cider.
This year, 455 exhibitors will come from 39 states, Canada and the Netherlands with collections of wildlife photographs, paintings, sculpture, wood carvings and watercolors. They are some of the world's best wildlife artists. As in past years, original paintings, carvings and sculptures will be displayed in the Tidewater Inn's Gold Room. The works here sell for hundreds of dollars. Less expensive paintings and prints can be found in the Blue Room at the Elks Lodge.
In addition to the wildlife exhibits, several events are planned throughout the weekend. A major attraction is the Decoy Auction at 2 p.m. Saturday at Easton High School. Admission is $2. That evening the school's auditorium will fill at 7 p.m. for the World Champion Goose and Regional Duck Calling Contests. Admission is charged. The school is also the site for a Buy, Sell and Swap Shop popular with collectors of antique decoys, waterfowl-related memorabilia, rare books and prints.
Wildlife seminars will be offered Friday and Saturday at the Avalon Theatre at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. You can watch as retrievers are put through their paces at the ponds on Bay Street. Demonstrations are scheduled Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. And there is a shooting exhibition at the Talbot Rod & Gun Club Sunday at 10 a.m.
In conjunction with the festival, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is sponsoring a waterfowl cruise on Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon. A second cruise is planned Dec. 4 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $20 for members; $25 for non-members. Reservations are required. Call (410) 745-2916 and ask for the education department.
Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. A $10 admission ticket is good for all three days; free for children under 14 accompanied by an adult. Over the years the festival has donated nearly $3 million to organizations along the Atlantic Flyway who support wildlife conservation. For information, call (410) 822-4567.
Games and dances
"Splendid Entertainments" are the order of the day next Sunday for children between the ages of 8 and 15 at Gunston Hall Plantation in Lorton, Va.
The mansion was the home of George Mason, Revolutionary patriot and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. In 18th-century Virginia, dancing was an important part of every celebration. Among the gentry, skill in dancing was essential to a proper upbringing. But even among the common folk, dancing was a favorite pastime. Games were also popular -- like nine men's morris to sharpen your mind or skittles, a precursor to bowling. And there were blindman's buff and hopscotch and other games that are still played today.
As part of the program, Mary Melichar, dance mistress at Colonial Williamsburg, will teach the young participants. Space is limited, so advance registration is required. The cost is $6.
Gunston Hall is south of Washington off I-95 at the Lorton exit. Call (703) 550-9220.
Every year in early November the small southern Pennsylvania town of Fairfield goes all out to help disadvantaged peoples of the world by holding an International Gift Festival. It is being sponsored, as it has been for the past 31 years, by the Fairfield Mennonite Church, from Thursday to Saturday.
Members of the small congregation, with the help of townspeople, transform the church into an international bazaar, providing a marketplace for people who live in Third World Countries. More than 1,000 items will be offered for sale, including wood carvings, brass candlesticks, hand-knit sweaters, exotic jewelry, Mexican pottery, wind chimes, toys, tableware and much more. A new attraction this year is rug weaver Yousef Chama from Lahore, Pakistan. He will bring a selection of heirloom-quality Oriental rugs and demonstrate the art of rug making. Over 200 families benefit from the sale of one of these rugs.
All the money raised from the festival goes to the Mennonite Central Committee's SELF-HELP Crafts, a job-creation program designed to help some of the world's most economically disadvantaged people become self-sufficient.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. The church is on Main Street (state Route 116) in Fairfield, just eight miles west of Gettysburg, Pa. Call (717) 642-5440.