“We have a bonfire every night,” Bob the proprietor of the Grizzly Lodge told us. “People make friends for life there.” I wasn’t sure sure about the “for life part” but I’m not one to miss a good blazing fire.
Rich and I were within yards of reaching the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The plan was to find a campsite in the park for the night, but when Rich saw the Vacancy sign on the lodge, he immediately turned into the drive. His deteriorating health dictated better rest than sleeping outdoors on a thin inflatable pad. Late in the season, we scored a tiny cabin right on the riverbank.
Rich barbecued out near the fire pit while I prepared the remainder of our camp meal in the cabin. Already the bonfire was ablaze. When Rich crashed and crawled under the colorful patchwork quilt on the soft double bed, I slipped outside.
Approaching the fire pit, I could just make out three couples and a young man seated on the quadrangle of logs. I settled next to the couple on the nearest side. Like me, they appeared to be in their 60s. The man was tuning a guitar, clearly a borrowed instrument, muttering about its quality. But when his fingers caressed the strings music unfurled. His picking held the promise of a folk melody as the vibrating notes sang out over the flames. Soon his gravelly voice took up the tune, with an oddly lyrical mix of breathy tones and vibrato. His wife joined in, singing a quiet and alluring harmony, almost a haunting combination. The language was foreign, adding to the mystique. The impromptu performance continued, mostly his guitar and solo voice, always in his native tongue. It was a magical moment. I wanted it to go on forever.
Simon Chudnovski and Valentina Kharenko are originally from the Ukraine, and have lived in New York City for 20 years. Both are accomplished musicians, and Simon had been invited to perform in Seattle. Valentina, a pianist, would play as well. They were taking their first long car trip in the US with their son, David. Fulfilling one of David’s dreams, they were visiting as many western national parks as possible in three weeks. Normally they camped and hiked each day, but that night they had allowed themselves a cabin and real beds.
David eagerly filled us in on their travels, their music and their lives. The couple on the next log was from the Pennsylvania Dutch area, dressed in their traditional garb. They asked Valentina if she spoke German, and the conversation continued in that language. The Ukrainians took as much interest in each of us as we did in them, as we lingered by the fire.
I so wished Rich could be there. I knew he would be as enchanted by the music as I was, as charmed by the experience. I chatted with David as we wandered back to our cabins, and told him as much. He insisted on stopping at his car so he could give me a CD of his father’s music. And he gave me the name of Simon’s channel on YouTube.
I invite you to listen to his music. You will have to imagine the heat of the fire, the glow on the faces surrounding the blaze, the crackle of the dry wood. That music floating over the scene. Bob joined us for a spell out there. Said he’d never before experienced a bonfire like that one. When magic happened.