from THE ROAD PAST ALTAMONT
I had gone out that evening, I remember, to breathe the scented air for a few minutes.
Two paces from the house, a sort of impenetrable night began, just as in the times so
often described to us by Maman. I went down to the end of the farm road, to the edge of
the immense plateau, so somber at that hour and rustling like a great cloak spread out in
the wind. How easy it was, with the darkness blotting out all traces of habitation, to
imagine these places in the primitive reverie that had so excited my grandfather but
always rebuffed my grandmother. On those nights of mild and vaguely plaintive wind,
I was always aware of those two profoundly divided spirits. And my own adventurous
heart perhaps divided them even further by inclining me so strongly toward the one who
had so loved adventure. …
In the big living room, where a few of our people were lingering, I found my mother
and Uncle Cléophas, sitting a little to one side and engaged at this very moment in calling
to mind the character of my grandmother.
“Do you remember the sudden anger she turned on us, Eveline,” said my uncle, “that
frst night on the wagon trail when we couldn’t fnd a house to stop in and had to camp
out under the stars? Was it because the fre wouldn’t catch? Or in fear of the naked prairie
all around? She stood up, calling us gypsies, and said threateningly, ‘All right. I’ve had
enough of following you, you band of strangers. You go your way then. I’ll go mine.’”
Maman smiled rather sadly.
“Those are the sorts of threats one makes when one is at the end of one’s tether.
Before she left her village, she probably didn’t realize how different everything would be.
The night you speak of must have been when she fnally saw all the implications.”
“But to call us strangers!”
“Weren’t we, in a sense,” said Maman, “when we all turned against her to extract her
consent by force?”
“We had to,” my uncle insisted. “We had to leave. Back in the hills, you remember,
Eveline, it was nothing but rocks, thin soil….”
“No doubt,” said Maman. “But she was attached to it, and you must know now
yourself that one doesn’t only become attached to what is soft and easy.”
Hidden in a corner of the room, a very young man was softly playing a harmonica.
The slightly languid air formed a discreet accompaniment to their speech and perhaps
urged them a little toward nostalgia.
“What could we have done but what we did?” my uncle continued. “The west was
calling us. It was the future then. Besides, it proved to be right.”
“It was the future,” said Maman. “Now it’s our past. At least let’s try, in the light of
what we’ve learned by living, to understand what it was like for her to have to leave her
past when she was no longer young. Would you, Cléophas, willingly leave this farm
ASSIGNMENT I: PERSONAL RESPONSE TO TEXTS
Suggested time: approximately 45 to 60 minutes
Carefully read and consider the texts on pages 1 to 4, and then complete the assignment
Roy, Gabrielle. The Road Past Altamont. Translated by Joyce Marshall. Toronto: New Canadian Library,
2010. Reproduced with permission from Fonds Gabrielle-Roy.
“That’s not the same thing,” said my uncle defensively. “I’ve worked so hard here.”
Maman appeared to be listening to someone invisible, a soul that had vanished
perhaps but had not yet stopped trying to make itself heard. She raised her eyes to her
brother and gave him a smile of indulgent rebuke.
“Cléophas, haven’t you ever understood how hard she had to work on that wretched
farm in order to make a life for us that was pleasant on the whole?”
“That’s true,” said my uncle, somewhat ashamed. “But I was so young when we left
the hills. I scarcely remember them. What about you? Do you remember?”
Maman stared dreamily at her clasped hands.
“I remember them, yes, quite well.”
But what was she recalling exactly? The bygone hills she had not seen since
childhood? Or the quite unexpected ones in Manitoba, which we had one day discovered,
which had restored so much else to her memory and which must have been the source of
the change I had observed in her, for, come to think of it, it was only since the
reappearance of hills in our life that I had noticed that attention to voices from the past
that I found so bewildering and that took her to some extent away from me.
Suddenly I had had enough of all this chiaroscuro. After all, since hills were in some
way involved in all this, we might as well speak of them openly, settle the matter once for
all. It occurred to me that she had not spoken of them to me even once in this whole year,
although she thought of them incessantly, I was convinced.
I broached the subject.
“Uncle Cléophas,” I said, “do you know the village of Altamont? Less a village,
actually—just a few houses …”
“Altamont!” my uncle repeated, tranquilly smoking his pipe. “Queer little spot, isn’t
it? It’s been half dead for a long time. I’ve never liked that region. It’s too cramped and
narrow. I’ve never been able to understand why, with the choice of homesteads on the
level easy prairie, anyone would look at that clump of hills. Yet it happened some ffty
years ago. At least the region attracted some Scottish immigrants who, I imagine, found
there a smaller edition of the country they had left. But what folly! The Highlanders
didn’t make a go of it and scattered after a short while, some returning home, others
going to the towns. An experiment that turned into a disaster, that’s Altamont.”
“Nevertheless,” I said, hearing myself speak on Maman’s behalf, “there are some
extraordinary views to be seen when you cross the entire little range.”
“Do you say there’s a road right across the range? If so, it must be in a bad state of
repair, for almost no one, to my knowledge, ever goes there now.”
I noticed then that Maman was watching me nervously, as if she feared I might let my
uncle too far into our secrets, and with her eyes she cautioned me against it. Good and
affable as he was, my uncle was not much given to fights of the imagination and knew
how to squelch them sometimes with a single, too concrete word. It was curious: the true
son, at heart, of my grandmother, the one most exactly like her, with his realistic spirit
and his attachment to what he possessed, he was because of his lack of imagination the
one least capable of understanding her.
About My Father’s Plot to Get Home
It didn’t come from the high mountaintops
as one might think, or the white fre of fear
from the razor’s sudden fash in the dark,
nor did it come from the cloud lost
after the rains had poured from the skies.
I remember my father took my arm
and set out struggling for his apparent home.
It did not know its own past.
It looked the way it always had,
with the pain in its bones and the pleasure
bursting out of its face, and it felt
all knowledge sleepily turning within it,
wrapped in the innocent folds of its skin.
Soon it will return to its nakedness,
as it always has. But it will not matter
if it rises above the vast felds of blood.
And if mountains rise, and rivers food.
And bland cracks appear like bad dreams
in the fawless skin of a father’s world.
Mahapatra, Jayanta. “About My Father’s Plot to Get Home.” In The Times Literary Supplement, August
24/31, 2007. Reproduced with permission from Jayanta Mahapatra.
This photograph is from the book Habitar La Oscuridad (Inhabiting the Dark). Over a
period of many years, Cruz photographed the blind and visually impaired in Mexico.
Marco Antonio Cruz
from HABITAR LA OSCURIDAD
Marco Antonio Cruz/Habitar la oscuridad
Fold and tear along perforation.
ASSIGNMENT I: PERSONAL RESPONSE TO TEXTS
Suggested time: approximately 45 to 60 minutes
You have been provided with three texts on pages 1 to 4. In the excerpt from
Gabrielle Roy’s The Road Past Altamont, the narrator’s mother and uncle share contrasting
perspectives about their past. In Jayanta Mahapatra’s poem “About My Father’s Plot to Get
Home,” the speaker considers the desire to return home. The photograph by Marco Antonio
Cruz is part of a long-term project.
What do these texts suggest to you about the ways in which individuals deal with the
prospect of an uncertain future? Support your idea(s) with reference to one or more of
the prompting texts presented and to your previous knowledge and/or experience.
In your writing, you must
• use a prose form
• connect one or more of the prompting texts provided in this examination to the topic and
to your own ideas and impressions
Jan&June (next page)
stays within the margins
stays within the left margin & the ruler
guide on the right
Use additional paper for planning if required.
Assignment I: Personal Response to Texts
To which of the provided texts are you responding? What is the connection between the
text(s) and your response?
What idea about the prompting text(s) do you intend to explore and how does it address
State your choice of prose form. Choose from prose forms that you have practised in
English Language Arts 30–1. You may respond using a personal, creative, or analytical
perspective. Do NOT use a poetic form.