Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

All Who Wander

“Dad, you know the Tolkien quote,” I started hesitantly.  My dad and I were about 45 minutes into our hike up to Lake Johnson and the trail had just vanished in an open meadow.

“Yeah, the one where Frodo sings, ‘The Road Goes Ever on and on, Down from the door where it began.  Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with weary feet, Until it joins some larger way, Where man paths and errands meet.  And wither then?  I cannot say.'”

Fortunately my dad did not sing, but unfortunately he’d said the wrong quote.  “No, Tolkien says, ‘not all who wander are lost.'”

“Yeah,” answered my dad.

“We’re wandering and we’re lost.”  Roads might go ever on, but ours was dead in the grass, consumed in the wild.  And if we wandered much longer, my 40 pound pack was going to be the death of me.

My dad pulled out his map and I plopped off my backpack.  It looked like the trail was supposed to be leading to the West, but the fire road we’d tried after the original trail petered out was going East.  After a brief discussion about what we should do, I walked ahead, sans my pack, to check and see what was ahead.  The path vanished again, only to reappear a little higher up the hill.  After five minutes I knew this was no good.

We turned around and tried a trail that cut a sharp edge up the mountain.  Sadly, as promising as this trail seemed, it was the wrong one.  An hour and a-half in to what was supposed to be a 12 mile hike, my dad turned us back around and walked us back to the trailhead.

It was annoying to be back at the start, but I didn’t want to wander around and not reach Lake Johnson, so I followed.

Tolkien’s words repeating in my head, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.”  There are things unseen in the seen world, which I believe is a key part of Living Spiritually.  If I take everything for face value, I’ll miss the grand adventure God has for me.  Unfortunately, I didn’t want to see the deeper meaning of wandering.  I just wanted to be on the correct trail and to see my friends.

Maybe what the quote is really saying is, the point of life is in the journey, not just the destination.  Maybe we can wander if our goal isn’t the destination, but loving the moments we are in while we are wandering and feeling lost.

I took a deep breath and placed one foot in front of the other.  Quickly the trailhead slid behind us.  The sun was hot and my mood was still low.  We turned left at the fork in the trail, which meant taking the trail up to Stewart Lake instead of Lake Johnson.  We knew the trails should meet up, but that hadn’t been our plan.

As I moved mindlessly over the ground, passing Aspen trees and beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers, a quote from Jack Kerouac sprang to mind.  “Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by . . . Trails are like that: you’re floating along in a Shakespearean Arden paradise and expect to see nymphs and fluteboys, then suddenly you’re struggling in a hot broiling sun of hell in dust and nettles and poison oak . . . just like life.”

Keep your head down and just keep going, I thought.

With my eyes glued to the trail I smacked head first into my dad’s pack.  He’d stopped for some reason.  “Hey!” said a familiar voice.  It was Philip, my friend we were hiking up to see.  He was on his way down the trail to pick up his brother from the airport.  He’s no nymph, but seeing him was very other worldly.  I’d felt lost and dejected as I hauled my pack up the trail, but he confirmed that we were going the correct way and that we’d see him the next day at camp.

Kerouac is dead wrong, I countered.  I can’t live life with my eyes closed to the magical world around me.  I don’t want to glide along until the trail ends or my life is over.  I want to keep my eyes open, even if what I see let’s me down.  Even if I get lost along the way.  After running in to Philip the trail opened up and the hike became easier.  And definitely prettier.

And so the road went ever on, to Stewart Lake and then to Lake Johnson.  My dad was right, though we were lost, we were still on the same road that led out of our front door, we were connected to the grater adventure along the way.  And while we hiked I kept my eyes open and saw covey of grouse, Indian Paintbrushes, and a friend who I hadn’t seen in several years.

Tolkien is right, not all who wander are lost.

As the Neighborhood Cafe closes down at the end of the month you can keep reading what Brendan Scott writes on his Adventures in Guatemala blog.  Just make sure you subscribe by selecting the subscribe button on the right hand side of his blog!  He writes regularly about his adventures and how he saw God working through his daily life and would love for you all to be a part of his adventure.  He is very thankful for all of the readers here at the Cafe.  

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Is Life About the Journey or the Destination?

By Eugene C. Scott

Jack Kerouac

Is life about the journey or the destination?

According to Jack Kerouac, neither.

At least that’s what I read into Kerouac’s novelOn the Road. Published in 1957 On the Road is a fictionalized account of Kerouac, “Sal Paridise,” and “mad” beat generation buddy Neal Cassidy,  “Dean Moriarty,” criss-crossing the U.S.A. in the years following WWII.

On the Road was hailed as “an authentic work of art” by the “New York Times” and brought Kerouac instant fame. It has since been named a classic that created a movement and influenced Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, and many others.

Thus I picked up the fifty-five year-old literary classic expecting a story spilling over with insights and observations of a people and nation just lifting itself out of the morass of the second war to end all wars.

What I discovered instead is a crazy, stream-of-consciousness (what Kerouac called “spontaneous prose”) story that was at times well-written, inventive, funny, shocking, and beautiful but at other times corny, dated, repetitive, shallow, immoral, and non-sensical. In the end, On the Road is not a narrative of a journey across America or even how that journey ended at a physical or even meta-physical destination but rather how the road from New York City to Denver to San Francisco and back impacted Kerouac’s jazz and drug addled search for not even he knew what.

Each of Kerouac’s five trips across the country is progressively more frenetic and yet interior. In his first trip, hitchhiking, he describes the country and characters in rich detail. Early in the book I reveled in his description of Denver, my home town, in the late ‘40s.

But soon Kerouac seems to only describe people and places based on what they do–or don’t do–for Sal and Dean. The road becomes a strip they race over to get here or there.  But even the here or there don’t really matter.

Hitchhikers they pick up only provide much needed gas money, and–if Sal and Dean are lucky–drugs, sex, and a place to stay. Women are there to cook or provide sex. Kerouac spends pages deftly describing the sounds of jazz bands who have “it.” But “it” is never defined beyond how “it” makes Sal and Dean feel right then and there. Dean drags Sal into a tighter and tighter narcissistic spiral. Each time Kerouac hints at something deeper such as how a once innocent country is changing, the discussion fizzles in a rush of alcohol or Dean saying something senseless like, “Yaas, yaas, yaas.”

Yes, On the Road defined, even invented, the “beat generation” and fathered the hippie movement. Both of which were vaunted for their supposed philosophical depth and questioning of the meaning of life.

But it seems to me that an extremely narcissistic Kerouac also gave what later became the “me generation” its voice.On the Road elevated narcissism to an art. Is it possible that Kerouac unwittingly played a big part in granting an entire generation permission to ask nothing more than what’s in it for me?

I suppose every generation has struggled with living for something bigger than itself. And that is why our best stories–the true classics, works of art–usually contain a narrative describing both a journey and a destination that is about both the hero and the world he or she traverses. While stories such as Kerouac’s may be well-written, novel, artistic and even groundbreaking, they do little to challenge us to see beyond our own puny lives. They give us and our short-comings comfort. Unlike the Odyssey of Ulysses or the quest of Frodo or the pilgrimage of Harry Potter or the ultimate journey of Jesus to the cross to save us all, stories about neither journey nor destination may entertain but they fail to challenge, fail to call us, as C. S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle, “Further up and further in.”

Is life about the journey or the destination? Both! But according to On the Road that much asked much debated question doesn’t even seem to dawn on Kerouac. Too bad.

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