After Montreal, we ventured out into the great Canadian wilderness, to live off the land and sleep under the stars. I grew up camping with my family; we were known as tent people. Okay, so technically I grew up in a house, but that was only 50-51 weeks out of the year. The rest of my time was spent in a tent near some tourist destination wishing I could stay in a hotel like all my friends. Camping let my family travel on the cheap and learn to really appreciate air conditioning. A few years ago, I introduced wifey to camping. She took to it, city girl though she is. Her limit is three consecutive days. And she prefers cooler, mosquito-free environments. But she’s game, which works out nicely. Camping is our plan B once my unemployment insurance runs out.
La Mauricie National Park sits about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. It’s filled with lakes, hiking trails, campsites and giant kamikaze dragonflies that fly directly into windshields. The park has slightly fewer bugs since our visit. The plan was to sleep, eat and do nothing. We were successful, with a few minor hitches. Sleeping was the easy part. We learned on our last (and first) camping trip together how to set up our borrowed tent, with the help of an amused camping veteran from the next site over. Experience taught us just how hard the ground is without a cushion. We came prepared this time with brand new sleeping bags (a wedding gift), ground pads (a last-minute purchase from the local Sports Authority) and tiny pillows (from our last camping trip). The sleeping went well.
Doing nothing worked out too, once we got the hang of it. Nothing doing doesn’t come naturally to us uppity city folk. We have to fight the inclination to walk really fast and check our wireless devices every three seconds. Who knows when a signal might magically materialize out in the middle of nowhere? We must be ready at any time to discover that no one has tried to contact us and we’re still not that important. Once we were in the right mind-frame, the challenge became figuring out where best to do nothing. The ideal location would be quiet and easily accessible, with few people around. No problem, lots of Canada is like that. But most of La Mauricie is only reachable by trail, or hovercraft, I suppose. So people tend to gather in the picnic areas and by the lakes right off of the only main road. Only the adventurous and energetic few go beyond.
We spent one afternoon reclining near the edge of a grassy picnic area near our campsite. People wandered by now and again, on their way to a hike or a dip in the lake. But the nothing doing went on uninterrupted. I read ten pages of a science fiction book, slept for two hours and read 20 more. In that same time, wifey ready 13 novels, seven magazines and three plays. We even had a guard butterfly to ensure our nothing doing continued as planned. Wifey named him Harry. He was an imposing presence, fluttering about, perching on knees and shoulders, keeping a watchful eye. He even tried to corral us into more nothing doing at the end of the afternoon on our way back to the car. But we would not be swayed. It was time for the eating portion of our day.
Eating, more precisely, cooking, was much harder than sleeping or doing nothing. We had a styrofoam cooler full of food from a farmer’s market and neighboring grocery store in Montreal. Wifey came prepared with spices, cooking implements and a strong desire to cook over an open flame. But I can’t start a decent fire to save my life. (Do arsonists have their own version of that cliché?) Fires took hours to start on our last camping adventure; meals took hours more to cook. I was so inept that I managed a couple times to put out a fire with lighter fluid. Our first attempts at cooking this time around weren’t much better. All the kindling from the surrounding woods was wet when we arrived. So I resorted to charcoal and newspaper, just not enough of it. The first fire was too low, and our sausages took forever to cook. We ate by the light of our citronella candles, watching the hot wax fill up with mosquito remains.
The next day we discovered prepackaged kindling at the little store in town. Camping purists may call it cheating through a mouthful of berries or trail-mix. But campground camping is hardly roughing it. So I’m all for it. Besides, I think our ancestors who cooked with fire out of necessity would’ve happily bought bundled scrap wood if it got them their dinner faster. The store-bought wood – packed in orange plastic to be environmentally friendly and remind us what’s to be done with it – worked great. Wifey grilled a couple of steaks along side some baked beans and a couple ears of corn. I kept the fire going like my life depended on it. (How about that cliché?) We were eating in no time. And when darkness fell, and packs of raccoons roamed the forest in search of scraps, we’d long since settled in to watch an episode of “Lost” on the laptop. I was full and satisfied, having mastered a useful skill – fire starting. It’s not a resume builder, but it will sure come in handy when continued unemployment forces us to cook over an oil drum-like trashcan underneath a BQE overpass.