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Under The Cottonwoods –A Town Celebrates Its Own

We had agreed to meet downtown, under the towering cottonwoods. I arrived early, intending to relax and catch up on some reading. Little did I know I’d find myself in the middle of a celebration; a boisterous commercial one at that.

Being a bit of a hermit, it surprised me – how drawn I was to staying to take in the sights, sounds and aromas.

Sweet-natured, no-nonsense folks piled out of trucks and mini-vans with armloads of boxes, bags and tubs full of stuff. They set up tables, rearranged the park, plugged in cookers, lit barbecues and looked up through the cottonwoods, muttering to the western sky.

A young woman with angular grace and an unhurried nature settled herself, her box, harp and overturned hat – off to one side. A teenaged boy with a mop of red hair and a violin case sauntered over to her. Their conversation was lost, though, as the clop-clopping of a pair of horses, with tour wagon behind, stole my attention. They, their drivers and the most laid-back dog I’ve seen in awhile, pulled up to the curb setting aside the two orange pylons I realized had been reserving their space.

REGULAR EVENT

Clearly, I was part of a regular event. My book found its way to its shoulder bag – unlikely to be returned to – certainly not before lunch. A few molecules of barbecued beef wafted my way every time its hurried cook opened a lid. A young helper fussed and tinkered with her cash box. Another set up a menu with prices. My stomach told me I’d be dealing with them before the hour was through.

Parents rocked babies in strollers. Toddlers – in numbers that didn’t seem normal for a small Prairie town – hid under tables, behind pants, skirts and massive tree trunks before jumping out and running somewhere else.

Clusters of time-pressed adults hung chatting around vendor tables – until an inaudible message ricocheted from vendor to vendor and a new and very old energy took over – that of homemade goods being exchanged for hard-earned cash.

NUANCE

Time stood still – like it does when we’re keen to take in every nuance but there’s too much to absorb. Out of the blue, a jarring siren filled the air. Nobody, absolutely nobody in this park, filled with chatter, melody and laughter, adjusted in the slightest to the siren – as if I was the only one who had heard the darned thing wail. I pulled out my cell. 12 noon. OK, must be an otherwise abandoned ritual – telling people when to break for lunch.

My eye caught her moving brusquely into the bustling picture – along with other down-towners streaming in. The siren had done its part. She looked around searching for me – at least a fellow can always hope. I decided to stay put, the playfulness of the carnival around having its effect – curious to see what she’d do next. She hadn’t told me there’d be a market here today – probably forgotten among details of her week.

She paused, one foot still on the sidewalk, taking in the scene – adjusting her world from determination to exploration. She checked out the menu on one side and the lunch line growing longer by the moment on the other. She nodded and chatted briefly as she wedged through, coming out this side of the line with a bounce and leaving behind a man with a hearty chuckle.

Her gaze took in the young fellow fiddling with notes, fingering and feelings he found in his art. She scanned the vendors in an arc under the cottonwoods – passing right over me, hmmm – looking for a likely place to start. She chose a natural products booth on the far right and made her way. I got up and began my own journey along the arc toward her, finding crafts, freshly washed veggies, handmade soaps, herbal teas, dandelion root/chocolate cake (of all things), raspberries and baking – loads of flax bread, muffins and berry pies.

ADVENTURE

I got so caught up in the adventure, it was she who startled me with an affectionate hug and a smile.

And the rest, as they say, is her story. I learned, over lunch, how a group of smaller-scale farmers and community-minded souls had taken it upon themselves to revive the farmers’ market that spring. They had decided to make every Friday noon a celebration of community and food – and hopefully inspire more local food and craft providers to add to the diversity of goods available.

They had realized it would be difficult for vendors to also put on a hot meal, and so had put out the call for community groups to provide food, from local sources as much as possible, and raise money for their particular causes. The folks with whom we were sharing a table, nodded and interjected now and again as she spoke – adding windows to the multifaceted story. I felt myself being pulled into a place I had never been to in the city. I’m still not quite sure what that emotional, perhaps spiritual, place is. There might not be words for it all.

The two of us? We took a tour with a well-informed woman and the stoic driver, the two horses, wagon, dog (and the enthralled boy who wouldn’t get off at the end of the tour). Ya, I saw a series of outdoor murals and learned a bit about this wonderful town, but clearly I wasn’t fully there as my fingers laced with hers and my heart yearned for a place to belong.

David M. Neufeld, lives in the Turtle Mountains near

Boissevain, Manitoba and is a (happily married) vendor/

dreamer at the Boissevain-Morton Farmers’ Market.

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