Journey to Leacockland 3- On the Tomson Highway
The morning after the banquet, as I made my left turn from the waterfront bike path onto Mississauga St. (Orillia's main drag of patios, cafes, stores etc.), I breezed by none other than Tomson Highway. The keynote speaker from the previous night's banquet was walking alone towards the lake. I raised my arm, palm forward, elbow akimbo, in greeting. He did likewise. As it was the morning after the night before and I for one had not yet had my coffee, it is a safe bet that neither of us was feeling too chatty. Not a word was said. Yet the thought, spurred by the palm-forward greeting (like something out of the old Lone Ranger show) immediately occurred as I continued past the Legion Hall at the foot of the street: What if I had deepened my voice and said 'How'? Would Mr. Highway have been insulted by my egregious lack of political correctness? Would my liver have been imperiled?
No. Of course not. And I am (as a certain friend often points out) a f***ing idiot for thinking and writing this way. If Tomson Highway's keynote speech is any indicator, it is far more likely that he would double over with laughter rather than take offense. For this is a man who knows (as far too few Canadians truly do) what it is to laugh. To fall down helpless on the ground and laugh. My faux-pas would be nothing for a man who told us his father was born in 'Sasquatchewan' and that the biggest problem with going above the tree line is that there is nowhere to go to the toilet. He also pointed out that there is no laughter in the Bible and that the meaning of the Eden story is that the English are afraid of the garden of pleasure. This is so true that it is, well, laughable. It is this connection to and evocation of the fundamental absurdity in all things- an example he gave is that the government spends fifty-thousand dollars a year to maintain each prisoner, yet only a lucky few artists get a mere twenty-thousand in grants- wherein lies the indispensable value of Mr. Highway to our country's literary life. This is the reason that his speech, though 'narrow-casted' from his own life and concerns, hit a 'key note' in this writer's ongoing creative life.
next- a few thoughts on some grizzled literary warriors.