We had barely turned down the dead end 60-mile road that leads to the northern British Columbia community of Atlin, when we encountered a solitary grizzly grazing on lush July vegetation in the roadside ditch.

We were on our way to the annual three-day Atlin Music Festival. http://www.atlinfestival.ca/ This music fest is less than ten years old but it has become a favorite destination for both musicians and festival attendees. In fact the site is so spectacularly beautiful that some performers have  requested an invitation to participate. This year’s slate of musicians and storytellers included artists from the Yukon, Cape Breton Island, Manitoba, British Columbia, Sweden, New Zealand, Senegal and the United States.

We met friends Hugh and Cheryl at the Pine Creek campground.  The quiet campground is located two miles from the music fest making it an easy bike ride on our mountain bikes. Most of the 1000-plus attendees camp in the old mining town at the edge of the festival.

Besides the amazing music, I loved the gathering of people. Smiles came easy. Children roamed around like small packs of playful fox pups. And most amazing is that they were often alone, without their parents. However, the community of folks here are clearly caring and quick to tend to any young mishaps.

And those human-cubs that were barely able to run, quickly joined those who could as they hopped, spun, stumbled , flew with outspread arms, and dashed back and forth in front of performing bands. There were numerous collisions that result in staggering tearful dashes back to mom or dad. A quick hug and words of comfort always performed healing miracles and the youngster was quickly pulled back into the vortex of little people energy.

The sand pit, about the size of a two stall garage, was littered with colorful plastic shovels, rakes, sifters and pails.It attracted the kids like no candy store could. Once, as I walked by the hump of sand, I paused to watch the kids. There were  thirteen wee ones totally engrossed in their efforts. Most amazing is that each was working alone. Each was fully immersed with their imagination in carving, excavating, building or burying. I wanted to crawl into every one of their brains and listen in to the process.

As a species, we humans have an affinity to gather in tribes rather than keep company with loneliness.  Like iron filings jumping towards a magnet, we tend to merge towards song, dance and food. The Atlin festival provided these critical elements in spades.

Jonathan Byrd*, a highly regarded and awarded songwriter and flat-picking guitarist from North Carolina, repeated a stanza from his song, The Ballad of Larry, “Loneliness is poverty.”

Looking around to the sea of warmth, I felt like a rich man.

Swede-gone-Canadian, Sarah MacDougall, http://sarahmacdougall.com/ who has spent the last few months living in the Yukon, repeatedly pleaded, almost wailed, during the singing of her hit Ramblin’, “I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

Clearly a crowd favorite, she was in no way alone anymore.

Nationally regarded and Yukon-born storyteller, Ivan Coyote told tales that clogged my throat with a wagon train of lumps and blurred my eyes with a surprising surge of tears. She wove tales of loneliness in her growing up and realizing that she was more boy than girl but that she had no choice but to follow and honor her sexuality by boldly and mightily declaring her being a lesbian.

If you were lonely at the Atlin Music Festival it was due to your own sinking spirits.

The festival ended Sunday evening. It didn’t take long for caravans of tired attendees to begin the drive back down the dead end road. I suspect the earlier spied grizz was dining no where near the road on this busy evening.

Suddenly we found all the campsites . . . well . . . a little bit lonely. Nancy and I chose to spend another night so we could have more time with Hugh and Cheryl before they pulled out for the long drive south to their Canmore, Alberta home. After good byes and hugs were exchanged we hoisted our daypacks, loaded with snacks, water and extra clothes, for the hike up Monarch Mountain.

We climbed and climbed, as did our heart rates. Soon we were beyond any vestiges of aspen and into the sub-alpine fir. Climbing higher, out of the fir, we  finally we found the party-colored slopes of alpine. Carefully we stepped around carpets of stoic, stunted and showy flowers. The views in all directions elicited gasps and croons. Here we could see miles and miles of the long Atlin Lake. We spied a white horizon of icefields high in the Coastal Range Mountains.


After a picnic lunch, in a wind-sheltered draw where we kept company with the sky-blue blooms of alpine forget-me-not, we reluctantly turned around and began our trek back.  As we crossed the summit alpine we nearly stepped on a female blue grouse. She didn’t feign injury to lure us from any nearby nest or young so she was clearly not alarmed.

I considered pausing to photograph the bird that stood on a smooth rock less than ten feet from us. Nancy whispered, “She’s not a very impressive bird is she?” She was right so we moved on to let her be unphotographed.

We climbed a knoll and were dropping down when we spied a male blue grouse.We stopped to watch the unalarmed bird. These game birds are the second largest grouse species in North America. A Yukon friend always liked to hike up into the bird’s haunts in the sub-alpine fir groves  in late September to secure his favorite Canadian thanksgiving table fare of two plump blue grouse.

The solitary male grouse seemed totally oblivious to us. We grew new smiles when the bird paused, raised his fanlike tail, inflated his bare throat patches and provided us with another Atlin music number.  He elicited a few “booms,” that sounded like a slow series of deep-throated hums.

 He paraded by, not twenty feet from us. His bright orange eyebrows belonged to a Mardi Gras parade. When not hooting, he busied himself by pecking cream-white mountain avens petals off the stunted plants. I eased the camera out and slowly slid on my rear downhill to get closer. I did not make eye contact. Perhaps he thought I was a grazing Dall sheep or caribou.

We listened to his low crooning booms; his own rendition of “I don’t want to be alone anymore.” Maybe, just maybe, on the other side of the flower festooned knob, there was a female grouse that was on her way to the Atlin Alpine Music Festival.


*Note: Jonathan Byrd was a major favorite of mine and I highly recommend going to his website http://americanaagency.com/Jonathan_Byrd.html to listen to a sample of his work and check out his tour schedule. He will be in Minnesota in November.


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