by Leslie Smith
I met three geniuses last summer, straight off the train from Montreal.
Ranging in age from 14 to 18 they climbed into my car, deftly stashing backpacks, a much younger brother, their parentals and a five-string banjo in the back.
Within minutes we were zooming down the 401, deeply embroiled in a discussion about the difference between Irony and sarcasm. The word “semantic” was used at least five times. The discussion quickly segued to methods of sowing and harvesting my newly-acquired and sadly unproductive hay field. I was in heaven.
Though we had never met before, the boys quickly relaxed into their new surroundings. Discovery of my old, out of tune upright piano provoked ecstasies of jazz and klezmer improvisation as well as a Duelling Banjos contest on piano and banjo.
Our disused fishing gear and assorted poxy lures were yanked out a storage shed and our old red canoe put to water. Snorkelling gear was commandeered to explore the nearby shipwreck (“A shipwreck!” they gasped) in our local lock system.
No mere board games for these precocious teenagers. They had devised their own complex, beautifully illustrated game based on scientific stages of evolution–which already filled a volume of its own–and was played at the dining room table. “Hey, Ben, it’s time for you to evolve. Do you want skin or scales?”
They helped with the dishes, they tidied, they made scintillating conversation, and enjoyed two beautiful, perfect summer days. And then our six visitors, who had been crammed in with our family of four, were gone.
I was left basking in the afterglow of a fabulous gift: a set of the smartest, funniest, most energetic yet methodical young people I’ve ever met. Not yet out of their teens, they had learned something special, and, moreover, had generously imparted it to me: the secret of life. This, as it turns out, is an even simpler maxim than Live, Laugh, Love.
It’s Play, Eat, Learn. And go fishing.
It is the nature of geniuses, it seems, to not only acquire knowledge, but to seek it out in all of its complex and esoteric delights. Fishing lures, fish, their habits. Types of field grasses, their uses, how to harvest them. Biological creatures and their many permutations, real and imagined. The composition and playing of music and its improvisation through pentatonic, diatonic modes, major and minor scales, on a plethora of instruments. Languages, geology, the nature of water.
If you’ve ever met an actual genius you know what this feels like. It is like being given a glimpse into what it might have been like to be taught by Aristotle, or to watch Leonardo da Vinci at work: intensely exciting and intensely stimulating. A tiny bit like what discovering the God particle must feel like. Like basking in the nature of something so superior, you begin to believe in something again.
And isn’t that what we all strive for.
(Photo Credit: Laura Currie)