From the lovely little white courthouse to the old telephone poles lining the clean (!) brick alleys, Corvallis is the penultimate “small town”. Saturday mornings in summer find about half the populace (and their dogs) strolling through the farmer’s market down by the river on First Street. It is a mouthwatering collection of homemade pies and local cheeses and fresh eggs, and potato bread so soft you can’t even slice it. It is a visual candy dish of glistening strawberries and rotund radishes and potted tomato vines that already have blossoms. And every half block you can hear a different band or singer or fiddler, some terrific, some off key, but all enthusiastic and filled with the joy of just bein’ alive and kickin’.
Market Saturday is a ritual, a celebration, a feast. I have always loved it, but never was brave enough to sketch it until now. Funny how I don’t mind drawing where I’m a stranger, but in Corvallis, no one is a stranger… I planted myself on a shady bench between the ‘Health Care is a Human Right’ booth and the guy who will consult with you on how to fix your bike. I had a good angle on the courthouse and the food tents, and used the perspective of the street to funnel the parade of humanity. But shade turned out to not be such a good idea, so I picked up my gear and moved off down toward the bread van, Oven & Earth, always my favorite vendor. I passed a singer, two young jugglers, a couple of bands, and then I stopped in my tracks to listen and watch as the “Grange Hall Drifters” performed. The songs they sang are as old as the hills, I’m sure my Grandfather called Square Dances to them back in the day, but these guys were young. “Philomath boys,” one bystander said, and they were certainly dressed the part. Jeans as jeans were meant to be, cowboy boots (real ones, not fancy Texas pointy-toed ones, but the kind you work in), plaid shirts. Coulda been cowboys, coulda been loggers, one mighta been a hippie, but definitely Musicians with a capital M. I didn’t realize I was grinning like a fool until a friend came up and asked me who I knew in the band.
There were too many enchanted listeners drifting in and out of my line of sight to be able to sketch live, so I snuck up close, snapped a photo, and went back to listening and grinning. If Corvallis wasn’t so uptight and self-conscious, we all would have been dancing in the street, not just the three-year-olds. I miscalculated when I got home and started sketching because I couldn’t fit the fourth musician onto the page – definitely a cowboy, banjo, white straw hat and all – and if he sees this I apologize. Next time I’ll slow down and do a better job of composing before I jump in with the watercolors.
I also decided that sketching the produce booths was not a good idea – people were there to shop, and visit, and there was no place to sit, stand, or lean. The longer I stayed, the more crowded it got, and the more people wandered over to chat. More photos await my next opportunity to sit still long enough to sketch.
Penultimate is too close to the truth in describing Corvallis, I am afraid. The definition is “next to the last”. This year saw the advent of a WalMart and a bunch more national franchises, and the demise of our local grocer. The university is busily erecting industrial barns and paving their lovely agricultural meadows, doubling the student head count to vastly outnumber the resident population, while Florida developers bulldoze through my neighborhood to build 5-bedroom “luxury townhomes” for college kids not even old enough to drink legally. I know – Change is a constant, but we are destroying what we came here for in the first place. I’m going to miss it when it’s gone. Shoot, I miss it already.