As a rule, my wife tells me, when I go to the Duncan Farmers’ Market on a Saturday, I am on a mission. There is the jam lady, the young couple who make the best double-smoked bacon in the world and, in season, the guy who will sell you a cauliflower as big as your head.
Ever the contrarian, this Saturday morning I sit down on a bench in the square near the bandstand where a trio entertains with old fashioned country music. You know, the kind that sounds familiar but you’ve never heard before.
Sun shines in an azure sky. The crowd mills and buzzes with that infinite variety that is the essence of human individuality. Where are words to describe the colours, the ebb and flow, the mood, the murmuring, laughter, cries and, over all, the music?
It’s a market. I see and hear and smell the multiplicity of offerings. Meats and breads and pastas, greens and potatoes and rainbows of vegetables and fruit. It’s the season for corn and late berries, apples, pears. There are pies and preserves. Wines and perfumes. And cookies for kids and dogs and even grownups. You can get a massage or have your fortune told. Shirts and dresses, scarves and toques are here. Knitting and crochet. Crafts in wood, metal, glass, silver. Paintings and cards and the art of the photographer. Food – to go, to eat in hand, to take home for supper.
It’s a hot day. Shorts and sandals are the sensible choice but there is so much more. Which is cooler, mini skirt or flowing dress? I see long sleeves, short sleeves, no sleeves. The work of the tattoo artist is everywhere on display.
And children. Little ones, big ones, in between ones. Tiny ones in snugglies, backpacks, strollers: two wheel, four wheel, eight wheel. Kids on someone’s hip. Babies snoozing, smiling, staring, pointing. One-year-olds learning to walk, to run, to dance. Dancing comes naturally. Is it the music, the crowds, the day? And now there are balloons. Where do they come from? Red ones, white ones, blue ones, yellow. Balloons take centre stage. Back and forth, up and down. Hug them, hit them, kick them, lick them. One pops and someone screams, then all is well again.
There are, it seems, as many dogs as kids. Dogs on leashes, dogs in harness, dogs sporting scarves and bling, yes, doggy bling! Dogs sitting, standing, sniffing strangers, one another, eager and glad to be here, impatient to move on. You know they’d rather be back in the truck cab, driving.
There are lovers, too. Young and shy, grey and content, middle-aged couples with arms around each other. So many holding hands. Young mums – where do they find the strength, the energy? The band plays on.
Farmers’ markets may be the oldest of human institutions, dating back to the dawn of the age of agriculture, 10,000 years ago. And yet they are with us still. Nothing can compete, not the corner grocery, the mini-mart, the big box warehouse store.
Markets don’t just happen. Someone makes them go. It’s a lot of work. But it is we who come to see, to shop, to become a part of the whole, if only for a little while – on a mission. We call it the Duncan Market, but this is Cowichan, Chemainus, the Lake, Saltair, Maple Bay, Tribes, Cobble Hill, even Shawnigan and Ladysmith. It is all of us, here, now, today.
And here’s a thing. In the half hour I sat and watched and listened, I did not see a single cell phone. Wow!
Tom Masters is a writer and a resident of Chemainus.