October 16, 2014

TICE | Kerouac, Québec and Spontaneity

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By OLIVIA TICE

As I sat next to the dying coals of a campfire at 3 AM reading Kerouac’s On the Road, propped against a makeshift lean-to shelter in the northern Québec wilderness, I had a lingering thought that I never wanted fall break to end. Behind me, fellow road-trippers and classmates snoozed on a bed of pine branches and a throw blanket, using hammocks for blankets and duffel bags for pillows. In the middle of the night this rag-tag camp looked far from homey and less than prepared for the chilly Canadian night breeze, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

After a two-day stint in Montréal, reaping the benefits of a lower legal drinking age and the increased worth of our American dollar, my motley crew of Cornellians headed northbound, packed in a Subaru, sans map or cellular service. We had our eyes and souls set on Québec’s wildlife reserves a few hours outside of the city and a vague notion of which highway would get us there.

After a nap and an unplanned detour involving a lot of farmland and slight confusion, we found our golden road north and gunned it, ascending upward toward the reddened leaves and forested hills. We drooled over each lake as it passed and pointed out nearly every campsite sign until we were so hyped with the swirling leaves and the crisp autumn air that the next dirt road turn-off became our destination of the day. A few bumpy, dusty minutes later the Suby was parked and we crunched our way to a faint trailhead. Expecting nothing and wanting everything that the marshy, thick Canadian forest had to offer, we reveled in the distant sounds of chainsaws and followed dozer tracks uphill until we came upon a deserted logging operation.

Like children dropped into a life-size box of Lincoln Logs with a few hours of daylight and a night of fall break freedom left, we couldn’t resist the urge to build, to camp and to leave a trace of adolescent shenanigans in the vast boreal breast of the north. With naught but our able bodies and our lightweight jackets, we set to work constructing a lean-to of fresh-cut logs. By nightfall we were sitting round a roaring fire, eating and passing a bottle of wine, itching to hop inside our self-made structure and bask in the almost air-tight and piney aftermath of outdoorsmanship and manual labor.

As is typical of sleeping on the ground and spooning desperately for body heat, I awoke a few hours later to a full bladder and the whispering crackle of a dying fire. Perched next to the hot coals, I found my restless mind reflecting on the events of the weekend, thinking it a small wonder how we ended up in the flickering light of tall pines above a small lake off a road I couldn’t name in unfamiliar Kanuk territory. I was starting to doze as my eyes traced the ever-flowing Kerouac prose that emanated youthful indiscretion and meandering North American travel, grateful on that Canadian Thanksgiving night for adventurous hearts and friends and for the spirit of Jack that lay in my lap, alive in the quiet breath-sounds of my peers and the distant rustle of the autumn breeze.

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