The Little City - August/September 2018

I first came upon it a few weeks ago ─ barely visible from a distance and unidentifiable.  It kind of telegraphed a sense of order, just enough to pique curiosity. 

Like so many things on The Spit, it was worth the trek along the sand, pebble, rubble beach in my clip-slippery bike shoes to get there. You don’t have to go that way.  It’s just that my curiosity drove me onward without considering less complicated alternatives. I was already on the beach below the newest incarnation of the Magnificent Pile trying to get a shot of it from the lake side when I received the ‘telegraph’.

And then:

I left this tucked into the back, facing the rubble cliff:

Here it is, a little easier to read:

26 August 2018

A swan pair flies
He’s in front, honking to her.
Is it to make sure
she is still there?
She’s not answering from
her nearly
Or is it the other way ‘round?
She, then he?
And then there is you,
small city of wonder…
Oh, and another swan
alone this time,
the honking not quite
so confident.

As distractingly wonderful
as those three were,
you are here beside me,
a begin-again
harmonious high density

Ten days later:

For a moment I am transfixed by the encounter of this Google Earth likeness. I am a benevolent introspective giant here.  The impending sky, the juxtaposition of the rubble cliff and its meaning, with the orderly elegance of the vulnerable little city, and the promise that it might offer, all held in a single gaze.  A small shiver of recognition passes through me.


7 September 2018

Hello again, hello,
charming city of
with your perfect
value scale balance:
white to grey to black
back again.
You’ve grown so, and now
you have yourself
an orange brick

Keeping out
keeping in?

Perhaps a frame to show you off
to best advantage
its colour difference
and precision placement.

‘Ah, you cannot know the
answer’ says the pen. ‘You
can only guess and spill my ink
with your speculation.’
‘You’re wrong.’ I say ‘It’s only play.’

Some days I love not knowing

Also on this day, the tower builder arrived and was instantly hard at work and keenly focused just down the way.  The temptation to approach was huge.  But I knew that knowing would change everything.  And so,

07 September 2018

I thought I was
my commitment to
Today is a little shaky.
The pen is sniggering
at my distress.
The builder is over there as
I sit safe-distanced
by the little city here.
Shall I leave this note page
here or there?
There, would only be
a sort-of half
Is there such a thing?

I visited the little city again the other day.  It has developed urban sprawl with low-rise additions at its periphery. Still charming. And yet somehow its magical intimate ambush eroded with this suburbs hint toward real-city evolution. There it was, a nudge toward the commonplace world I inhabit and me, deeply reluctant to leave enchantment behind.

Until next time. 

The Stealth Art Collective

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Eagle Erratum

On making mistakes – the best kind – the ones that inspire learning.

In my previous post, despite intentions to honour First Nations symbolism, I was inadvertently culturally insensitive in my writing.  With apologies – The Stealth Art Collective.

The lesson?  Beware of social constructs ─ the shared, unexamined assumptions of reality which inform pretty much everything and which can trip you up.

Ostraca, Ekphrasis and the Magnificent Pile Part III !!!

Yes! Three exclamation marks for Part III. It is the beginning of so much more to this story. This time I broke a rule I have kept for 10 years -- the one about staying anonymous.  Although, I only bent it a little.

Here’s what happened:

Since the towers were so obviously (to me) the work of the same creative mind and muscle, I wanted to play fair: a) ask permission to use my photographs of the towers on this blog, and b) ask whether the builder(s) would like the work credited or to remain anonymous.  I left a note:


The hoped-for answer arrived in a day.

The builder is Robert.  The imagination, the design, the engineering and execution make him an extraordinary artist. He was too modest to self-identify so, I’m taking identification license. Robert, the builder, is an artist. Better ─ artist-engineer.

Within a few days, the Magnificent Pile, had changed its crown to this:

From the lake side


From the land side


And Next to it, Robert had flung:



Although it was considerably smaller than the tower, it had so much energy at its heart, enough to hold its own next to all that grandeur next door. 

I left this:


3 June 2017

Oh what a THING you are today
With your First Nations Eagle heart
     In pride of place.
Your improbably graceful curls and curves
Who knew that concrete blocks and bricks
     can sway
     can dance
     can undulate so?
The Romans and the Greeks have nothing on you.

In return, Robert sent these:

Credit:  ©Robert Zunke
Credit:  ©Robert Zunke
Credit:  ©Robert Zunke

Until next time. 

The Stealth Art Collective

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While We Were Absent

Just before my long hiatus I received this beautiful image "Poem in Ice" taken January 1, 2015 from Kris Ito.  It makes perfect timing for a small digression from 'The Magnificent Pile'  and a perfect bridge, for beginning again.  Thanks Kris!

January 1, 2015 © Kris Ito

January 1, 2015 © Kris Ito

Here it is in October 2014,  freshly written and left at my favourite talk-to-The-Spit site – below the lighthouse, a little over the rubble cliff edge.


To The Leslie Street Spit,

Almost mid-October now (I’m glad all your notes have gone – too much to read!)
Thanksgiving weekend to be more accurate.
No matter the amount of wiping, your surfaces
still bleed the ink.  It’s just too cold for the dew to
release on this breath-visible morning.

It felt imperative today, absolutely appropriate, to
thank you for your existence, your magic,
your small-gap revelation of the universe,
a little like Oz, not the sham of him. It’s the glimpse
behind the curtain…a moment so brief, it can be
easily missed.

Creative spirit and instinct mingle here. I’ve not seen it
so clearly anywhere else before.  I love you for this
and for all you draw from the natural world, from
the human world, from me and the pen.
You are indeed a temenos, a holy place, in the best
possible sense.

Thank you for the slim edge that you are, where the
natural and the deconstructed built worlds dance –
and the monarchs, this morning, so many exquisitely
beautiful monarchs.

With profound appreciation,
                               the pen and the camera and me



'til soon.

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Ostraca, Ekphrasis and the Magnificent Pile - Part II

There was that single day in February when I was able, dressed in five layers, riding slowly to mitigate the chilling effects of the wind, to bike out onto The Spit. I caught my first glimpse of this magnificent pile, not yet what it would become. 

I managed a phone-cam shot but couldn’t keep my hands ungloved long enough to write. 

Next, a two months tough-to-wait-out hiatus; it took that long for the weather to be biking friendlier. (No matter what reports are in the city, The Spit is much cooler.  Plus, with fewer rubble mounds than there once were, there is little to block the wind at the rubble cliff edges.)

On April 23rd, headwinds and gusts. I couldn’t wait another day.   I was uneasy that I might find the tower reduced to the rubble it had emerged from before I could get back to it. Getting low and small on my bike, I took off to defy the wind. 

Worth it, worth it, worth it! Look what I found!

Constructed in the ancient Roman way, dry, nothing to hold the materials together except the art of engineering. At least 12 to 15 ft (3.5-4.5 m) tall. Breathtaking. Magical.

At the tower’s base, down the rubble cliff going left:

At the tower's base, down the rubble cliff going right:

To the rubble beach:

Views from the landing where the pathway separates to the left and right:

And here is what I left behind:


April 23, 2017

Hello gorgeous!
Your predecessors last year – and wasn’t it
the year before too?  Were awe-inspiring
but you, you are something else altogether
with your heavens’ reach and
your indecipherable hieroglyphics at your feet
your divided staircase to the sea.

I want to linger here with you.
       Your resurrection?
       Your reincarnation?
       Or simply your determination

Well, you know what I’m talking about
                                      don’t you

Where is Keats when you need him!?


As I headed back toward my bike feeling mighty fine, I caught this in the distance:

Bet there is a little tower envy coming from that place across the bay.

The magnificent pile is a classic expression of optimism and determination.  Over the last couple of years at least seven such towers have appeared at various times.  Each eventually returned to a rubble state. 

When I imagine the labour and risk involved in constructing these towers, I am awed and in wonder at the Spit-power that inspires such effort and tenacity.  The towers’ engineering style, their architecture and attention to detail have had enough in common to suggest the same builder. 

The determination to begin again, and again, and again, takes me to a story my mother once told:  The war had barely ended.  Ruins were more common than buildings left unscathed. The devastation was staggering. People were disheartened, mourning.

An opera house had been significantly damaged.  Rubble everywhere. 

Then what?  

Determined, hope-filled, broom-wielding optimists appeared one by one and began to sweep and carry rubble from the stage and the auditorium. So many others joined that soon the stage was clear, the orchestra assembled and desperately needed music filled the musicians, the instruments,  the air and its audience.  Again. 

Could there be something to the concept of creative spirit?

Until next time.

The Stealth Art Collective

Ostraca, Ekphrasis and the Magnificent Pile - Part I

For this one,I am too impatient to endure a prescribed story telling process,  beginning at the beginning of this Spit-love story, moving on to the middle and finally arriving at the present. So, let’s be unchronological and disorderly. The Leslie Street Spit has its own way of ordering things anyway. That’s how it has been between us all along.

First, you’ll need a little background information. By 2012, I had been tracking the creative instinct on The Spit for five years. I took off for New York to give a talk about it, closing that chapter of my work.  When I returned to Toronto knowing it was time to revert to Spit recreational tourism, I made my farewell bike ride.

I almost missed it! Small and unassuming, it waited on the rubble cliff edge.


The Spit entices with serendipities.  Instead of dissolving our relationship, it was extending an irresistible invitation to embark on more complex involvement and deeper appreciation.  Delighted to be wrong about our good bye, I slammed on the brakes, hopped off my bike and made straight for that pristine bookended slab.

There are material constraints but there are no rules for creative expression on The Spit.  Freedom to do anything can stop me from doing anything.  I needed structure. 

I made two rules.

  1. Add nothing other than text on whatever surfaces are at hand.  

  2. The text must address The Spit or whatever Spit-inspired artwork I find myself in the presence of.

The first rule meant that I would write using the archaic practice of ostracon writing.   Several societies voted in this way, writing their preferences on shards of pottery (ostraca) and stones, then tossing them onto a designated stack.  The largest accumulation for a preference would win.  Eventually poetry, letters, recipes, small stories, found their way onto shards and stones.  What could be a more appropriate writing surface inspiration? 

The second rule was in deference to our synergistic relationship.  The Spit contributes synchronicities and inspirations and I see my role as a conduit.  I needed to use ekphrastic writing. Ekphrasis was initially practiced by the ancient Greeks.  If you’ve ever studied Ode on a Grecian Urn, in which John Keats addresses the urn rather than writing about it, you know what I mean.  Originally published anonymously, you can read it here

Both rules applied looked like this:

The Text:

Here we are, you and I
For this moment the only markers
On this rubble cliff – right here, right now
Both of us fragile, vulnerable
You in your way, I in mine
Your smooth tablet
     calling to my writing pen
Well, almost smooth…
My pen will never be the same
     after this meeting!
Did you know that you and I are
     standing on an edge?  Not simply
     the rubble cliff. But on an edge
     at this very moment in time?
Can you see the past, the future?

Hush, look again, hush.

All week long back in the urban world, the anticipation of what I might find next on The Spit was excruciating.   When the day finally came, the closer I got, the faster I rode until I arrived breathless, pitched my bike and there it was:  the site, creatively interrupted in my absence.  (I’ll tell that story another time)

For the most part we’ve continued this way, The Spit, the artworks, the builders and me. We have collaborated anonymously, responding to one another’s work with the tacit agreement that others build and I write. Together, with our reciprocal actions and reactions, we’ve created many story-conversations out there on The Spit’s point ― where there is not much space between heaven and earth. 

―to be continued―

If you’d like additional information about ostraca, you can read more here.

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Spit-love and Wild Art


Our Spit-Love story’s anniversary is today, ten years today. A good day to begin telling our story, yes? And I am delighted to be the one in our small collective of artists to tell it.

I’ve noticed during our time together ― The Spit and mine ― that most visitors, especially the camera bearing ones are interested in this urban wilderness for its wild life, the conservation efforts. Visitors without cameras might be carrying fishing equipment if you are out early enough to catch them, or they are earbuds wearing walkers and joggers.  Oh, and the cyclists. 

The results of a Google search confirm this.  Compared to recreational and wild life interests, there is relatively little to be found about wild art, about the creative instinct and its dance with us on The Spit.  This has pride of place on the Stealth Art Collective’s list of what we love and what excites us about The Spit.

In the beginning using photo documentation, our purpose was to track the creative instinct as it reveals itself in the spontaneous, anonymously made artworks to be found there.  We’ve not been to another place where you can get this close to a clear uncompromised view of the creative instinct at work. 

In this wild, messy urban location, there is absolutely no incentive to make art: no curator, no art enthusiast to please, no critic interested, no formal institutionalized setting for display. Certainly, no prestige. Urban-world ideas of what is precious and valuable and conventional definitions of what is art  are impossible to apply. And, except for once in 2014 ―  that’s a story for another time ― there are no financial rewards, and yet…

I had experienced The Spit for years before 2008 but on April 14 I saw it differently. At the furthest point, below the lighthouse I saw this:

I felt a shift in perception. It was one of those rare experiences when the universe seems to open her curtain just a little to reveal something important, enlightening, some truth. 

And so it was the first day of the next ten years. 

Immediately we made a rule of conduct.  If we were tracking the creative instinct, then we could not intervene, we would only document what we found.  And just as immediately, we broke our rule. Not our fault. The creative instinct coaxed us to play.

There was something irresistible about crowning it with a stone spine. Perhaps it was for us a way of marking the beginning of something significant.  You never know when something is beginning until hindsight kicks in. We’ll return to this fine rebar creature in its many incarnations later in the story.

Until next time. 

The Stealth Art Collective

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