Archive | January, 2015

Farmers’ Market by Mark Toby

Farmers' Market

Mark Toby, Farmer’s Market, tempera, 1941, 19 5/8 x 15 5/8, Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection

The air is a brown soup. The market smells of lettuce, spinach, tobacco, and brewed coffee. The odor of fish and ice spills down the hallway. The noise of people talking softly to each other, to their clusters of buddies rattles in the din of vegetable sellers naming the places where their onions and yams have come from: Walla Walla, Yakima, Skagit. I can’t hear what the people are saying to each other. No one smiles. A disoriented man in a raincoats and Nor’easter stands in front of Stall 12 waiting for someone to arrive from across town. He glances at me and says something I can’t hear. No one carries umbrellas because the brown murk is not damp in that way. The moisture collects on surfaces without any visible rain drops. The water drools from the canvas awnings. Mosses and ferns grow where they have not cleared the tarp. A root from tree pierces the fabric. Left untended a forest would sprout in the market and grow toward the sky. In the red murk the only thing that registers is the movement of silhouettes, the reflection of sodium lights on damp slickers, the silver of a white Quaker-style beard. If Seattle men didn’t grow ears, there would be no way to tell them from Seattle women. No one walks briskly in the market. Everyone shuffles from side-to-side, a bovine shuffle; now and then a child says baa baa baa, or makes a barnyard sound. Only this place is part of the city rather than the farm. There are the remains of farm life in the market for sale. But in the market you can tell the truck farms in Auburn exist because of the city. The fishing boats leave their haul even in the 1940s on the docks of Portage Bay, and then trucks filled with ice bring the fish to the market. The city eats the country a root, a leaf, a fish at a time.

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Signs and Symbols in the Suburbs


Cottonwood Park on the Frager Road in Kent.

I went for a walk on Saturday on Frager Road and saw a number of signs on symbols that I could only take as harbinger of the year to come. I saw a man under the Veteran’s Driver Overpass riding a BMX bike. He was a middle age man on a child’s bike. He asked me for the time. I didn’t want check my phone, but told him instead I didn’t know the time. I said that I my guess is that it was about 12:30. I figured I’d left the house around noon and I’d been walking for a number of minutes along the Green River. I didn’t want to show my phone. He was grizzled. I couldn’t fell if the bike was his or a bike he had picked up from someone’s back yard. He awkwardly perched on the bike and had to keep it in motion to keep from falling over. With each pedal he had to hunch down. He wore a green rain jacket, a baseball hat, and had a full sized hiking rucksack with a bedroll. After we had our exchange, I wanted to check my guess about the time but I didn’t want to reveal to him that I had lied to him about not being able to check the time, so I briskly walked ahead of him. After about five minutes I looked behind me and he was ambling behind me, walking alongside his bike. So I kept walking briskly and then looked behind me again and there he was still ambling along. He was a very rapid ambler. So I wasn’t able to check the time. There is a metal bridge that crossed the river at the Puget Power Trail. I had this sense then that I needed to cross the water to get past him. I thought maybe he wouldn’t cross the bridge ambling along with his bike, or maybe I had a sense that he couldn’t cross the water like some supernatural creature. When I got to the bridge, I turned to see if he was going to follow me over the bridge, but he’d disappeared somewhere in the cottonwood growing on the banks of an old mill pond. On the Frager Road I try not to walk at dusk. Most of the time I encounter people who are walking their dogs, riding their bicycles in some kind of competitive distance race, or jogging. I encounter people who are headed somewhere and have a purpose. With the salmon run in the fall, men wearing hoodies line the banks of the Green River with their rods propped in the muck and their hands in their pockets. They stare morosely at the turbid water patiently waiting for a salmon to swallow their hook. At dusk, however, I run into men carrying bedrolls who don’t really seem to have anywhere to go. They wander along the side of the river, or wander into the forest. He was gone. I checked my time and it was about 12:45, so I had been very correct. Continue Reading →

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