We wanted to get there a few minutes early, because we suspected there’d be a crowd. Crowds are still a bit unnerving in this peri-pandemic time, but we weren’t going to miss this one. Because the Uptown Farmers Market is an almost religious observance in Port Townsend, and the first market of the year, with a wane of positive COVID cases in town, was being murmured and longed-for like an impending bacchanalia. We parked two blocks away, joined the pilgrims on foot and fell in beside a woman in a colorful hat whose anticipation was visibly bubbling from her smile.
“I hear there will be goats,” she confided.
Of course there would be. The first market of the year is traditionally opened with The Goat Parade. And the Unexpected Brass Band (yes, I know: you’d think by now…). It’s, well, you know Port Townsend’s unofficial motto is “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” I think that’s about all the explanation that’s needed.
By the time we’d arrived, the goats were already out of the the Goat Spaceship and on leash for their promenade. The Goat Spaceship? Oh, it’s…it’s actually a space-glam-themed trailer in which Lydia and Julia transport the Ground Control Goats from Natembea to wherever they happen to be working. And because Ground Control Goats is a space glam-themed invasive species mitigation business, why shouldn’t they travel around in a Goat Spaceship? Remember: we’re all here because…right.
Anyhow, Amanda, resident goddess of the Uptown Farmers Market, had just begun ushering the crowd together for a group photo as we reached the corner. That’s another thing Port Townsend does: big group photos for every event. Fourth of July, New Years, whatever – get someone up on a lift or in the middle of the street and get a photo that’s going to go…somewhere. There’s one from the Film Festival from about a decade ago up on the wall of Seal Dog Coffee, and every time I go in, I still check whether I’m in it. Remember….
But the band was firing up, the goats were roughly all pointed in the same direction, even if scattered across the main intersection, blocking traffic uptown, and it was time. There was a ribbon and the obligatory massive pair of scissors. Snip, and we were off.
Of course, once the crowd followed the parade down the narrow alleys of the market itself, the reality of what we’d set ourselves up for felt a little terrifying. We’ve spent over two years trying to keep six feet plus masks away from each other, and Port Townsend (older, politically progressive, civic-minded) has toed the line pretty closely. We’ve been rewarded by having consistently about the lowest per-capita COVID hospitalizations and deaths anywhere on the west coast, but as restrictions have eased have been somewhat slow to come out of our comfortable isolations.
But spring! And the Farmers Market! And goats! And so in we went, into the terrifying claustrophobic but irresistible swirl of how things were in the beforetimes, before we all became isolated introverts. And queued in lines for pastries and radishes, we talked with old friends and total strangers about how everyone seemed too close and too loud and how we were teetering on the edge of sensory overload. And yet we couldn’t step away, because this is what we had been so missing throughout the cold, isolated winter.
Yes, I’m sure this was the highest COVID risk thing I’ve done, behavior-wise, since March of 2020, and yes, I’m going to hold back from any further up-close socializing until we’ve all let a few days pass and tested ourselves. But you know, I needed this. Suffer the consequences as we may, I think we all did.