Sunday, May 10, 2009

Kerouac comes to Montana ...

I love this paragraph ... it's from an essay written by Jack Kerouac, published as "The Great Western Bus Ride" in the March 1970 issue of Esquire:

Jim Bridger didn't scramble up slopes as many of us do in civilization, he followed his eternity of water beds and was satisfied. Jim Bridger. . . grinding his coffee and slicing his bacon and frying his deer meat in the winter's shadow of the unknown Bitterroot Mountains. What must he have thought back there in the early nineteenth century, old squawman, solitary Jim Bridger? These were my Montana-entry thoughts; it got dark as we went up Lookout Pass in the Bitterroots. High in the snowy grey we looked a mile below to the gulch where a single shack light burned. Two boys in a car almost went off the ridge avoiding our bus, plumping instead into the plowed snowbanks. When the driver went out to shovel them clear, in the silence I opened my window to listen to the secret of the Bitterroots . . . a nameless hush. Down the pass we went to Deborgia, Montana, Frenchtown and Missoula. I began to see what Montana was like, at a wilderness way station there were ranchers, loggers and miners in the small bar in back playing cards and slot machines, outside it was the Montana night of bear and moose and wolf, pines, snow, secret rivers, the icy Bitterroots. One small light in the way station, in immensest dark, star-packed. I wondered what native young men thought of their Montana, what they'd thought in 1870, what the old men felt in it, and all the lovely women hidden. I slept en route to great Butte. . . over the Divide, near Anaconda and Pipestone Pass. . . Butte of the rough geographies.


  1. Ah, good old Jack. Was this something he wrote just before he died, or an old piece of writing the magazine salvaged?

    It's hard not to wonder what those first white explorers thought, tramping around out there in the mountains. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Jim Bridger or Lewis & Clark, seeing all that wild country?

  2. Heh ... thanks for single-handedly keeping me in comments here. :)

    Anyhow, if I remember right, Jack's bus trip was back in the 1950s -- I don't where the essay lingered in the interim, but it's good stuff. And very Kerouac!

    And yeah -- it would have really been amazing to have been the first to see these places. I know how very awed I am when I first see things, even though in my case there have been thousands or millions of others ahead of me.