The craft of the crocheted doily was alive and well in the home arts hall.

So, too, was the art of the embroidered dish towel, a homely thing, made beautiful with time and skill.

A spice cake, three layers of frosted perfection created by Sally Mullinix of Mount Airy, captured the prized purple ribbon at this, the 59th annual Howard County Fair, which runs through Saturday in West Friendship.

So has a sleek February heifer named Annie, shown by Megan Thompson, 15.

"It feels nice when you go out and win," said the Boonesboro teenager, who with her three sisters and a neighbor was busy exhibiting nine cows.

"This is what they work for," said Megan's father, Paul. "Year-round, they work for this week.''

The breeze blew through the barn, and the hay smelled sweet. Megan's mother, Deborah, gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

Elsewhere Monday, a half-dozen shades of honey wore ribbons of all colors. Master beekeeper Wayne Esaias of Highland explained the life of bees to Brett and Kathy Hill and their two children, Henry, 4, and Freddie, 2. The Columbia family peered into the special see-through hive.

Esaias pointed out the queen surrounded by her countless golden children.

"This one here is dancing. She's got pollen on her legs." She was dancing to show the precise direction to find flowers, across Interstate 70.

There were other bees with their heads stuck into the comb.

"This is the secret," Esaias said. "What they are doing is feeding the babies."

In the petting barn, Barbara Nash watched her 5-year-old daughter, Remy, leading her 2-year-old brother, Christian, from the pigs to the chicks to the downy ducklings

"I've been coming here since I was 5," Barbara Nash said.

She grew up near Fulton but has since moved to the suburbs in Montgomery County. Still, she returns again and again to the Howard County Fair. She sees old friends from childhood and gives her children a sense of what the country can still feel like.

"This is a real hands-on fair," she said. "This is one of the few fairs left that doesn't have cement sidewalks."

In the show ring, judge Jim Williams was busy with another class of 4-H kids and their cattle, patiently pointing out the merits of each carefully groomed animal.

Meanwhile, 4-H project leader Melissa Simmens of Columbia kept an eye on the members of her wildlife project group and their exhibit, "Do Birds Take Vacations?"

She marveled that some of her 4-H members have grown from small children to teenagers since she started leading them on field trips through the woods.

"All kids have a desire to learn about nature, to be out in it. It's great to catch them when they are young," Simmens said.

It was still early, but the dining hall, with its long tables with their blue and white check spreads, was already starting to fill up with people drawn by crab soup, homemade chicken salad and open-faced pit beef sandwiches, served on white bread with a side of mashed potatoes, smothered in gravy.

In other halls, set out on other tables just to be admired were perfect pumpkins, beans and prizewinning pickles. There was wool, too, and alpaca fiber.

A top prize went to a tawny cloud of alpaca entered by Helen Lewis of Sykesville. On the entry card the judge had written "beautiful!"

Allison Mazur, 7, of Silver Spring, left, helps with a magic trick performed by Shazam Magic at the Howard County Fair. County Council member Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County), center, milks a cow. Susie Gallagher, 8, of Clarksville carries off her prizes -- goldfish and a lizard.Seventeen-year-old Emma Bullock of Ellicott City receives the crown Sunday as Miss Farm Girl 2004 at the fair in West Friendship.Fairgoers enjoy a thrilling ride on the Dragon Wagon. In the front car are, from left, Anna Reich, 6, of Damascus and Gabrielle Delal, 5, of Arnold. Behind them are Thor Hansen and Travis Hansen, 5, both of Potomac Falls.Davey Sentelle, 15, of Jefferson, above left, wins the Jersey open summer yearling class during the Jersey open cattle show. At right is 14-year-old Nathan Glen of Highland. Left, Carole Roberts of Westminster dresses festively for the 59th annual fair.