Special to the News
Editor’s Note: This column is an excerpt from Paul Lucas’ new book, A Guitar Player on the Yukon Border. Lucas has lived in Atlin since 1979 and his book focuses on the work, the people, and the adventures of the North. This is chapter four in a 10-part series to run in the Yukon News every Wednesday this summer.
Locally it’s called the ‘Table of Knowledge.’ Every small town has one. Ours sits in the front window of the cafe. The cafe hasn’t changed in 40 years. Mostly it’s known as the ‘Pine Tree,’ but the names have changed with various managers and owners over time. Currently, it’s ‘The Mountain Shack.’
But it’s the same layout: Local art adorns the walls, ranging from paintings, to wood burnings, to old photographs — my favourite being a picture of the Atlin Inn in the old days with a vintage aircraft on skis pulled up to the frozen lakeshore. A number of small tables cling to the walls, and the same big old oblong table looks out over the parking lot, much as it always has, at the gas pumps and at the sign that displays up and coming community events.
A gathering of locals sits around the Table throughout the day to shoot the shit.
They rotate as the day progresses. Every now and then someone returns for one more kick at the cat. The light changes, marking off time as it flickers across the far wall … morning, noon, evening.
I occasionally occupy a chair there myself, being long enough in the tooth to hold my own on that sacred ground - my ability to sling the bull having been judged up to par by our local denizens of the deep. The talk is mostly work related, the state of the road, mechanics, weather, lake conditions, politics, the latest scandal … the regular fare. Every now and then I field a question about my musical activities. It’s comfortable. Tribal. There is joy in the sense of continuity. Steinbeck would be right at home.
This particular morning, I am huddled in the far corner of the room, sorting my mail - not the type of activity conducive to the free flow of ideas at the Table. Still, I wasn’t entirely out of the loop. The talk drifted across the room and I let the conversation wash over me — the gossip, the community concerns, the complaints, the weather — all of it framed in that wry sense of humour that keeps little towns like this upbeat the world over.
“How you doin’ with your house? Got the roof finished yet?”
“Yeah, I took the scaffolding off last week.”
“That must have been a big day. It’s been up there 27 years hasn’t it.”
“Sure. Is that fresh or is it the same stuff we had last year?”
My breakfast arrives. It doesn’t get any better than this — chowing down on bacon and eggs and drinking bottomless cups of coffee with my species at the local cafe.
“What?” comes the response from across the room.
“Nothing,” I reply.
A brief silence, then the chatter continues. I return to my task.
“You seen the price of toilet paper? I’m gonna have to go back to using the Sears catalogue.”
“Don’t bother … with that glossy finish it’s not even good for wiping your arse anymore.”
More silence. Then the inevitable:
“What are you doin’ over there anyway? You know we let guitar players sit over here as long as they promise not to crap in the corner right?”
“Bills.” I grunted.
In a small town, everybody is connected to everyone else in one way or another. There is a particularly good sampling of codgers at the Table this morning, and I’m tickled to see it’s weighted towards musicians.
Appropriately, fiddler Harry Colwell, the senior member present, is at the head of the table. Rick Sudlow, guitarist and singer, sits next to him with his back to the window and a singing pal, Chris Rye, sits beside him.
Across the table are Lloyd Brown (picked my teeth out of the steering wheel in my conquest of the Pine Creek bridge), along with his mate Anne Campbell, Bill Boyko (famous for his bare-ass shower on the bar under the roof leak at the Atlin Inn), and Bobby Whelan (arrived in Atlin on exactly the same day I did), sitting with her husband and local fishing guide/taxidermist, Gary Hill.
There are no flies on any of these folks; no shortage of skills. Need something done? Check in with the Table of Knowledge. Perfect example: Chris Rye is, like me, one of the remaining ‘wood and water’ cabin dwellers in the area, and has lived down on the lake shore for many years. We occasionally sing Stan Rogers songs along with our pal Ian Coster at the Rec Centre Bar — a habit tolerated, for the most part, by the other patrons of that fine establishment.
Chris is a train guy, having worked in the rail yards for many years. He has a model train layout running through his house that rivals anything I’ve ever seen. He’s headed out of town soon, because he’s also a pilot, and he’s off to Africa to fly a DC3 in some war zone or other. Like I say — no shortage of skills.
Harry stands up just as George Holman walks in. George is the unofficial mayor of the town (Atlin continuing to be unincorporated per the strident wishes of its residents).
“You leaving?” George calls out.
“Yep,” Harry replies. “I can’t just sit around here with these fools all morning. I have stuff to do.”
George takes his place at the head of the table, and chairs scrape the floor to accommodate Athea Boucher who has also just arrived — one of our Atlin Board of Trade members, and the bubbliest addition of the morning. She is followed by Sheldon Sands, son of Lyman (of ‘Pine Tree Services’) — a long standing Atlin family. Johnny Reid, a fellow Geordie from Tyneside and former manager of the Hydro plant, shuffles in. A full quorum has arrived. It’s the changing of the guard.
The chatter continues and the coffee flows.
“Did you hear those ravens making that racket this morning? What are they up to out there?”
“I’m pretty sure they’re mating. Which is more than I can say for me …”
I’m guessing the world wouldn’t stop turning if the Table of Knowledge ceased to exist, but I don’t think anyone around here is willing to take the chance.