Every year, on or around November 18, Laurentian University in Sudbury,Ontario hosts Margaret Atwood’s Birthday. It’s kind of like Robert Burns’Birthday, with the advantage that I’m still alive. Or maybe it’s a disadvantage: dead poets are by definition more glamorous, most of the time.
How to explain this Sudbury Margaret Atwood Atwood’s Birthday thing? Is it a joke? Sort of. But it’s sort of not a joke. Canada’s like that.
Laurentian started the birthday caper five years ago, using each event as a fundraiser for a worthy cause, but I wasn’t present the first three times. However, working on a Build It And They Will Come model, they kept on trucking, and then, finally, on the fourth year – like magic! — I did appear. (Wonder if it would work with Robert Burns? No matter how much bagpipe music we play, he’s never turned up at our place.) Happy Birthday was sung in French, English, and Cree, and I had such a good time that I went back again this year.
So after a brief encounter with Anne Murray in the Toronto airport – during which I traded my book for a Dawn Langstroth CD (Dawn being Anne’s daughter), off I went to Sudbury, to the 5th Margaret Atwood Birthday Dinner. The food was themed to the novel: local, organic as possible, with blueberry vinegrette for the salad, root vegetables, Georgian Bay whitefish, Finch Haven Orchards sparkling cider, Sumatrra Gayo Mountain shade-grown coffee, little desserts, some with cranberries — and menus on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
I was among some old friends – Helen Macdonald, with whom I formed half of a Dutch windmill in Miss Pickering’s Sault Ste. Marie dance class in 1945, who brought oatmeal cookies made from my mother’s recipe; and Jim and John Savage, whom I’ve known ever since we were all young –see pic of us on a self-made raft – who brought a CD of some old photos (See John’s website at http://homepage.mac.com/oldshep/Atwood-Sud.html ). There were some newer friends, too – Shannon Hengen and Susan Glover of the English Department, instrumental in putting the whole Sudbury event together, and MC Ashley Thomson, who is also my bibliographer, dedicated to recording every written word: the Blogs and Tweets are driving him mad. And more than 200 others — including the arts-friendly Mayor, John Rodriguez — who’d all come out to see me being turned into a lake (Lake Margaret is now one of Sudbury’s 700 lakes), and also a grove — the Margaret Atwood Grove on the Jane Goodall Trail. I thought I might end up as the Margaret Atwood Tea Room and Bun Shop, but this is better. I also received a statue called “Pretty in Pink,” incorporating a Sudbury fish bone showing growth rings and improving fish health. Lake, grove, and statue were courtesy the three beneficiaries of the dinner: the Living with Lakes Centre, the Vegetation Enhancement Technical Advisory Committee, and the Junction Creek Stewardship Committee.
And finally friend Chief Harry St. Denis of the Wolf Lake First Nation from Lac Kipawa, Québec, presented me with a beautiful Eagle Feather — a very high honour indeed. What had I done to deserve it? Not nearly enough; though Chief Harry and our family have recently been thinking together about the problems of the lake, and about the desirability of small electrical installations that use existing facilities as opposed to new, huge megadams that would not only destroy forest habitat, but disrupt the flow of water in the lake and lead to stagnation.
It was fitting that such concerns should be raised in Sudbury: for just as the Sudbury of the past was an emblem of the nightmares caused by a disregard for nature, the Sudbury of the present and future shows what can be accomplished through understanding and respect. Go, Sudbury!