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.