Agreed, Wiard's is a wee bit hokey. But it's a mistake to get all snooty instead of enjoying what for me turned out to be a silly, interesting, and even mystic afternoon.

After jolting down a washboard road and shelling out $8.50, I parked and ambled into the amusement area, which offers about fifteen flavors of ol'-timey country fun, or concocted facsimiles thereof. Robust country music boomed from the band South Wind, moving a mom and her daughter to dance in front of the stage. When the group tore into a twanglicious take on "Sweet Home Alabama," I started tapping my foot.

Kids on the nearby pony ride wore tense, radiant, and bemused expressions. One solemn baby on a furry brown pony viewed it all with Buddhistic calm.

Over in the hay barn, little kids whooped it up, burying each other in flung armfuls of hay. Next door, at the "Scareoke," three high school girls muddled through a rap song called "The Freaks Come Out at Night." Laughing, they tried to keep up with the lyrics racing by on a TV screen. "This is a riot," I said to a videotaping dad. As the girls came off the stage, he told them, "Oops — it didn't record — you'll have to do it again." "Dad!"

I chatted with fifty-something Phyllis Riddle, whose wooden stick horses had caught my eye. Her husband, Lawrence, Wiard's sole grower, saws out the pine horse heads, and she paints them. I bought from her a bag of beans labeled "Country Bubble Bath. Directions: Cook and eat one hour before bathing."

That did it — I was countried out, but I still tried the ring-the-bell hammer-whack thingy, hoping to blast the bell off its pole with a deafening BING — and would have, if the whizzer had risen above 2.

U-pickers can hop on one of the tractor-pulled wagons rumbling through the vast orchard, with a stop at the punkin patch. This was the part I'd looked forward to.

As I wandered among the apple trees, the music and tractor grumble faded until I heard only the whish of my sneakers in grass. All elbows and knees, gray branches held half-hidden blazes of crimson. After picking a peck, I sat under a tree and ate a cool, winy Jonathan that blossomed in my mouth in a way that made me practically swear off Kroger's. I surveyed some fallen Macintoshes. Among buttery leaves and emerald grass, the apples glowed in magenta, ruby, and plum — dazzling. Wind combed softly through the leaves. There was nowhere I wanted to be but lost in an orchard, under dusky mother-of-pearl clouds, eating an apple.

The Wiard's Country Fair returns on Saturday, September 18, and continues weekends through October.