When Norm Holler walks past my home in Whitehorse’s Old Town, I stand at the window and stare. He seems to float. I can’t figure it out. I stare at his feet, ankles, and every joint in his body to try to get the unusual rhythm of his gait. His feet barely seem to touch the ground and it looks like he could break out in dance.
I’ve been spying on him for 10 years now. In Old Town there are a lot of unusual people and unusual happenings. I watched him buy an old character-home on my street, only to knock out the low ceiling and put in an octagonal window to create an “open, lighter feel.”
And that’s what I’m sometimes suspicious of – his constant perky mood. He’s Mister Sunshine, even in Old Town’s dreariest days of dust and down-and-outers.
Recently I asked him what keeps him so buoyant. He denies being cheerful all the time, but says his philosophy keeps him positive most of the time.
“I believe humanity is a work in progress” he explains. “I’m always looking at where I want humanity to go. We tend to move in the direction we’re looking.
“It’s like driving a car – look at the road, not at the ditch or you’ll end in the ditch. I try to help other people turn the wheel. In the work I do, I try to bring some light to the situation.”
Norm has a solid career reputation in a job where I’d expect him to eventually get fed up with people’s complaints. In fact, I’m one of his clients. He’s been a registered massage therapist here in Whitehorse for three decades, yet still greets clients with great enthusiasm.
“I’m in the caring business so I have to walk the talk. I take care of myself. We have to acknowledge that we are creatures and that means we have to be actively engaged to have some level of vitality. We have to move around.”
There’s a paradox going on here that I’m trying to nail down. When he moves his body, he looks like he belongs to Cirque de Soleil, but I’ve seen him cross-country skiing and it just ain’t so.
“I’m not pretty to watch on skis” he admits unabashedly. “I started skiing consistently at age 49, 15 years ago. I’m engaged with the environment of the North. I want to know what the sky is doing each day.”
As Norm talks about his belief system, I get the feeling I’m left here in the dark ages of 2012 while he’s travelling on a higher, brighter road.
“I’m engaged with my community. I love living downtown because I walk to get groceries two to three times a week to talk to people and get to know their names. People need to be recognized. Without being recognized, it gets really dark in there.”
“I’m a positive person because I get nourished in a lot of ways. I get nourished by joy. Joy is a food group,” he laughs.
“I’m so happy Alpine Bakery is in Old Town. It’s a feature of good energy and nourishment, including the monthly Saturday night dances. And living behind Grace Community Church – in summertime when we’re having breakfast outdoors, I hear them singing and I get joy. I’ve learned to recognize joy and I know it’s impossible to be happy without being grateful.”
Well, I’m grateful Norm lives nearby so that when he’s worked his wonders on my contracted muscles I can just slip on my Sorels and shuffle back home.
“This creature we are, this primate, is an amazingly complex, curious being,” he says. “Most understanding comes from patience, observation and being curious.”
Great, he’s giving me permission to be curious. I’m curious about his unusual way of walking so I ask outright just how he does that manoeuvre. His smile widens and there’s mirth in his eyes.
His reply: “I acknowledge that I am a creature. So when I walk I imagine I’m a snow leopard. That’s how I move.”
A snow leopard.
Why, of course, one who inhabits higher ground, up there in clean snow, in the light.
This is the first of a four-part series on Whitehorse’s Old Town by resident and writer Roxanne Livingstone.