I recently took a university group north of the city to the Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier. If you haven’t been there, you’re in for a treat! The park is a vast expanse of boreal forest managed by the provincial park service and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It is less than an hour from Old Québec, but it feels much further than that. Once you are north of the welcome center, your cellphone is useless, and you have no choice but to abandon yourself to the nature that surrounds you. The central axis of the park is the Jacques-Cartier River which runs with purpose to the south toward the St. Lawrence River. The valley walls on either side of the river rise half a kilometer in the air, giving all passers-by the impression that they are but a microscopic part of the local fauna.
Our occupation for the afternoon was an outing called Sous les roches géantes: Under the Giant Rocks. It was, in essence, an above-ground spelunking expedition. Over the eons, the forces of geology have broken giant boulders off the escarpment that hangs over the river. In one part of the valley in particular, those boulders – some the size of houses – have created a haphazard pile of rocks that is riddled with cracks and crevices big enough for human beings to pass through. Guided by park rangers, we shimmied and twisted and strained as necessary to get through the labyrinth of rocky corridors. In places, the boulders have come together so completely that no light shines the way. Only the calming words of the guide – “left hand on the rock, right hand in front of you” – allowed us to find our way forward, trusting that the sun would be on the other side. The students and I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.