Sunday, 10 June 2012

Jasper - Part 1: Civilization

Arriving in Jasper reminded me - for no apparent reason - of arriving in Ulan Bator. Perhaps the shape of the station was similar, or perhaps I subconsciously pre-empted the similarity of the structure of my stay there - a couple of days in a hostel, a couple of days adventuring through the "wild" and another stay in the hostel, before departing. It was raining slightly when I arrived, and I learned that there had been a greater-than-usual amount of rain this year. I caught a shuttle bus to the hostel, where I experienced culture shock due to an atmosphere totally different to that on the train. Rather like the hostel I stayed at in U-B, the HI-Jasper was crowded with people who were engaged in various exciting-sounding activities in the area. Feeling a little lost in the crowd, I relaxed and wrote my diary, and chatted with one or two people. I had just decided to go to bed, when someone asked me if that was an accordion I had over my shoulder, and if I would demonstrate how it worked. I played a few notes, and very quickly a small crowd gathered, consisting largely of those I had been talking to. I continued playing, and Emily, the girl from the front desk approached, and asked if I would keep my playing short, since it was nearly time for the quietness curfew. She added that if I wanted to do a show the following evening, I could have a free night's stay in return. Which sounded like rather a good idea to me.

I finished playing, and wandered through the kitchen on my way to bed. In the kitchen were another couple of people who were interested in my accordion. Liz and her son Leif were on a road trip from their home in Juneau, Alaska to California. They told me they were fiddlers, and we should get together for a jam the following night. Passing by the front desk, I told Emily that there would now be 3 for the next night's gig, and she said she would arrange everything and went to talk with Leif and Liz. I helped her write a sign, and somehow, between the four of us, we came up with the band's name. Despite the fact that Liz and Leif had once been in a band called Taco, and I played with the Takoband in Japan in 2004-6, somehow it did not seem appropriate to regurgitate this name based solely on serendipity, so we became Sparky and the Troubadours.

Hey! I don't remember any free popcorn!

The following day, someone mentioned to me that there was an open mic / jam session at a bar called the WhistleStop in town. So I decided to go and investigate. I hitched a ride into town with some of the hostel staff, who were appreciative of my soundtrack to their driving. Turning up at the WhistleStop, however, my whistle was indeed stopped: the jam session had been the previous evening. Instead, I found a shelter from the rain in the form of a four-sided information board, under which I stood and played to the four walls, myself, and some presumably rather confused passers-by who could only see my lower legs and feet.

I walked back to the hostel, and on my way, I passed by the place where the rivers meet. This is the main thing I remembered from visiting Jasper 20 years ago. One of the most stunning and interesting aspects of Jasper, the confluence does not seem to appear in guide books or tourist literature. The Miette river is a brown colour and flows down from wooded mountains to meet the glacially-fed Athabasca river, which is a blueish-grey colour. The confluence of colours creates patterns and swirls that continue for many hundreds of metres along the Athabasca river - it is possible to see exactly which water came from which river, and the interference patterns that result are hypnotizing.

The "concert" in the evening was an informal affair. We took up our places on one of the tables in the common area, and were announced to those gathered in the room. Sparky and the Troubadours proceeded to play together for the first time, exploring the synergy between their Irish-based folkiness and my free-form meanderings and sporadic chord changes.

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