Archives for category: psychogeography

Where on Earth?

It’s easy to imagine that place is stable. A definite somewhere, that you can point to on a map. A place’s coordinates are easily found with a quick search on Google maps.

Google Maps

But is place really somewhere you can point to on a map?

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Under that big Google A, I think there’s less of an ability to track down where exactly HERE is.

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Consider a dramatic case, Gibraltar Point on Toronto Islands.

Gibraltar Beach

Gibraltar Point is the south-western most part of Toronto Island, and is where I’ve spent a lot of time. The point is formed from the southerly and westerly current of Lake Ontario pushing up sediment from land eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs to the east.

Island Flows

In this most technical of definitions, Gibraltar Point is this south-westerly most point of Toronto Island, where the currents meet each other almost perpendicularly. Taking this definition, we can find Gibraltar Point easily. Go there today and you’ll find a small structure marking the Point – a public bathroom.

Bathroom

If you venture past the bathroom and stand at the Point, you will feel the wind coming at you from your left and right with the waves coming from all directions. This is where the weather blown in from Lake Ontario first makes its landfall on Toronto.

But, looking at historical maps of the Island, you’ll see that it is an ever-changing sand bar, transforming shapes with every passing storm and year.

Island Changing

Understood by the definition above, and taking into consideration the yearly transformation of the Island, Gibraltar Point would appear to be roving, changing places with every year and every storm.

When John Graves Simcoe first saw the harbour protected by a sand bar, he declared it the site of Toronto, and built a lighthouse at what was then, geographically speaking, Gibraltar Point (named to evoke the Mediterranean rock that similarly protected a British Colony in Spain). As a result, despite being inland and covered in forests, the site of the lighthouse is now known as Gibraltar Point. Ask an Islander how to get to Gibraltar Point, and they’ll lead you there (and to the art centre across the road), leading you astray from the actual point (technically speaking) which is several hundred feet south and west of the lighthouse.

Lighthouse

Similarly, a plaque at was is now known as Hanlan’s Point refers to its former life as a Gibraltar Point. This is very far from both the lighthouse and the bathroom that marks the technical point.

Gpoint plaque

Gibraltar Point is not one, but potentially three different places.

During my time spent there, I have found a candidate for a fourth Gibraltar Point – one that carries the weight of this Place in spirit. It is a magical place – a forest grown right to the water’s edge – trees growing out of a beach – a sandy forest. Here, the waves crash against solid ironwoods that protrude, some horizontally, into the lake. The sands of the beach layer on top of each other, creating impressions of slow waves in the yellow and brown and red sands. Driftwood is lodged into the beach and is sculpted smooth and seamlessly into the sand. The dogwood at the edge leave their roots hanging into the water, dried to be yellow and stringy.

I know this to be Gibraltar Point because of the shared acknowledgment of the specialness of this place. There are always footprints leading to and from this place – signs of temporary dwelling, fires, ash and embers. This sand forest is wedged between two beaches and form a fulcrum for the Island’s southwesterly most point. This, Gibraltar Point in spirit, carries the spiritual weight of splendour that such a grand name and important place merits. It is where the flows of Lake Ontario meet and react and beckon. It is an undeniably sacred space, a temple in the forest, a definite articulation of the Island’s healing energy.

Sandy Forest

Gibraltar Point is many places at the same time. Place is dynamic.

Sandy forest

I wrote this post in April 2014, long before I read the fantastic Unruly Places by Alastair Bonnet. It seems that Gibraltar Point is undoubtedly an Unruly Place – a place that does not fit our neat understandings of space as searchable on Google Maps. 

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Photo by Christopher Gielen via Fast Company

I’ve heard a rumour that beyond Toronto’s downtown core there is limitless and soulless sprawl.

I’ve also heard that South West Florida is one big suburb — highways, gated communities, big box stores and all.

Sure, there’s a veil of misguided, anti-social and environmentally detrimental human-built infrastructure that characterizes these places.

But, I urge you, to look beyond the illusion of sameness perpetuated by our circuited experience.

There’s magic there, past the highways and the malls.

Don’t accept the myth of the bland. The apocryphal accounts of suburban monotony.

Resist homogeneity and find the magic that’s everywhere.

DSCF0327The mangrove swamps beyond the highways and strip malls of Naples FloridaDSCF9826

The Don River Dam, just north of Finch and east of Dufferin — embedded within a landscape of sprawl

Currently reading Unruly Places by Alistair Bonnett – highly recommended. 

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Toronto is a city of ravines and river valleys — and it needs a vast system of bridges to stretch over them. While these bridges are built to maintain the integrity of our famous grid, they inadvertently create amphitheatre like architectural spaces that beg to be explored, along with other overlooked parts of the city. Likewise, Toronto is filled with interesting humans with captivating narratives who need a space to share their stories.

LW LogoWith this in mind, my partner Natalie Amber and I began hosting the Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series last Fall. Building on the success of 2013’s Under the Grid concert, Learnt Wisdom invites attendees to “explore the city as we explore our hearts”, by holding story telling events in interesting and overlooked spaces across Toronto.

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Each event features four speakers from a diversity of backgrounds, sharing stories inspired by a set theme. The event is accompanied by an illustrated map showcasing the lecture location, and a short walking route from a set meeting point. While Natalie waits with the speakers at the lecture location, I go and meet the attendees at the meeting point, creating a psychogeographic procession as we make our way to the lecture space.

At the beginning of each event I introduce the space by sharing a brief history, including First Nations history, lost rivers, poignant events and quirky trivia.

Mount Pleasant Bridge

The first Learnt Wisdom Lecture was held under the Mount Pleasant bridge along Rosedale Valley Road. Rosedale Valley Road, voted the best route for motorcycling by YouMotorcycle.com, is in a ravine created by the now buried Castle Frank Brook. It was the site of the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada’s mansion (Castle Frank), and one of the city’s first breweries.

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Inspired by the theme Thing Your Parents Never Told You, our lecturers regaled attendees with stories of finding roots, overcoming narratives of strength, and breaking into hotels. Sipping pay what you can mulled cider, it was an absolute pleasure to take in stories under the breathtaking arches of the Mount Pleasant Bridge.

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The second lecture, this time in the afternoon, took place under the soaring Dundas Street bridge by the beautiful Humber River. Despite the Humber’s eden-like qualities, many Torontonians have not explored this verdant paradise – a linear park that stretches, only somewhat interrupted, from Steeles all the way to the lake. I was excited to share one of the most breathtaking, but least known pieces of infrastructure in the city with friends and strangers.

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Before getting to the lectures inspired by the theme Over the Hill, I shared a brief history of the site with attendees, including the Humber’s importance to First Nation’s as a trading route, the River’s role in the naming of Toronto, and the flooding caused by Hurricane Hazel, remembered vividly by Anne Michaels in her Fugitive Pieces. The lecturers shared stories of epic travel, bicycle-based endurance, and the struggle of moving on from unhealthy situations. As the river flowed, we drank spiced chai under the soaring arches of the beautiful Dundas bridge.

Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series has been a huge success. Each event has brought out impressive crowds, and a chord has been struck by an event that combines storytelling and urban exploration. Natalie and I appreciate the support of our friends and collaborators in these early stages of Learnt Wisdom, and thank you for coming out!

For now, Learnt Wisdom Lecture Series is taking a little hiatus until the new year. We are actively looking for appropriate indoor space for our next instalment. This is harder than you may think! Many of Toronto’s indoor spaces are privatized, and require lots of money or business insurance to use them. Learnt Wisdom Lectures has neither. But we won’t give up our search, and hope to announce our next lecture somewhere in the PATH system, 2015.

See you there and then, under the bridge, in the ravine, or under the grid! 

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Last Friday, I debuted Geomancy, Fortune Telling with Maps at the most recent iteration of the seasonal/monthly multi disciplinary art party Long Winter.

Geomancy is based on the idea that we are all implicated in the city, and no one can opt out of geography. The features of the landscape and their histories undeniably influence our being.

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Surveying participants’ present and historical routes through the city, I helped people map their lives, and untangle the relationship between their disposition and the landscapes they most often travel.

I spoke with many people about their routes. There was a person from Scarborough who mapped her relationship with industrial spaces, and a fellow living in Liberty Village who crosses under the Strachan railway overpass everyday. Many people had spent their entire lives in the Don or Humber watersheds.

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All the while, those participating in Geomancy — or waiting their turn — got to enjoy a hot cup of Cedar Tea – harvested from one of Toronto’s forests the previous day and served by the always gracious Walking Philosopher. In his words, we were considering the landscape as we drank it.

As I prepare my application for Guelph’s fantastic Masters of Landscape Architecture program, I realize the Geomancy, or, Urban Feng Shui, could be an effective approach to urban design. Taking a regional scale, the appropriate situation of a park, streetscape feature, or square can depend on the landscape around it: its topography or its proximity to railroads and river valleys and waterways.

I am excited to continue to study Geomancy/Feng Shui, and incorporate it into a future professional practice.

Until then, I look forward to seeing you at the next iteration of Geomancy.

All photos courtesy of RCSTILLS via Long Winter

This post originally appeared on Spacing

The Storymobile has been parked in front of the Mimico Centennial Library since October, as part of the Tale of a Town’s cross-country story gathering quest

If you’ve travelled through Mimico – a waterfront neighbourhood in Toronto’s west end – during the last few months, you may have noticed a tiny retro trailer parked in front of the local library. It’s the “Storymobile” (a mobile recording studio somehow squeezed into the trailer) producing the Tale of a Town and has been traveling across Canada, gathering community memories from the country’s main streets. At a time when big box multinationals are moving into urban centres, the goal of The Tale of a Town is to inspire people to make meaningful connections with the small businesses that form the backbone of Canadian downtowns.

The Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario

The Storymobile in Pasadena, NewfoundlandThe Storymobile in Saint John, New Brunswick

Above, the Storymobile in Windsor, Ontario, Pasadena, Newfoundland and Saint John, Newbrunswick

Led by arts and media company FIXT POINT, the Tale of a Town has so far had stints in towns and cities in Ontario, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and have just begun a stay in Ottawa. The Canada-wide quest will culminate in a multi-platform celebration of the country’s main street culture, alongside Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

As part of the Toronto Public Library’s Artists in the Library program, the Tale’s team of radio-artists have been recording interviews with Mimico’s business owners and residents and posting the best of their collection of local lore and personal histories online.

An independent town since 1911, Mimico was merged back into Etobicoke in 1967, amalgamating with the rest of Metropolitan Toronto in 1998. Despite amalgamation, Mimico still feels like small town surrounded by Toronto.

Image courtesy of John Chuckman, http://chuckmanothercollectionvolume2.blogspot.ca/

Mimico's lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

Mimico’s lakeside Westpoint Motor hotel stands alongside mid-century low rise apartment buildings

On the western shores of Humber Bay, Lakeshore Avenue West winds through a not yet complete condo neighbourhood before crossing over Mimico Creek and turning southwest to become one of Mimico’s main streets. Serviced by the 501 streetcar, the area is defined by small shops, diners, grocery stores, single family homes and mid rise 1950s apartment buildings that line the waterfront. The area has a seaside vibe – the mid century apartment buildings feel like a part of Miami Beach that has yet to be ritzed up.

Storygathering

Ask any town a question, and you’re bound to get an earful. With it’s own distinct history, it’s no surprise that the stories from Mimico are plentiful, eclectic and quirky. There’s the one about the barber who was too drunk to cut mustaches straight, or the time when Santa Clause made a surprise helicopter appearance at the Pickin’ Chicken. And of course, there’s the classic ghost story that will make you think twice about walking past the library after dark. 

As the winter comes, the Storymobile is getting ready to move on from Mimico, where they’ve been stationed since early October. To celebrate the end of their residency, a Tale of a Town has collaborated with Sean Frey to create an interactive installation in the Mimico  Centennial Library, transforming it into a city of books – books that you can listen to. 

The audio installation will launch as part of a community celebration at the library on December 13th  (here’s the Facebook event) and will stay up until December 20th.

This post originally appeared on the Pop-Up City

A project by FIXT POINT, a Toronto based arts and media company,  A Tale of A Town is a roving radio station that operates out of the “Storymobile”, a travel trailer-turned-recording studio making its way across Canada, collecting memories of the country’s main streets.

Even though North Americans are choosing to live downtown in record numbers, vibrant main streets are overshadowed by big box stores and multinational chains. A Tale of a Town wants to inspire people to remember why main street matters and how supporting small business is vital to 21st century urbanism.

The Talle Of a Town

Their most recent stop is in front of the Mimico Library in west-end Toronto. Mimico was a small lakeside town that was swallowed up by Toronto’s voracious growth. A team of radio artists have been inviting local business owners, heroes and residents to the Storymobile to record their memories of the town, and have been sharing their favourite online.

The Talle of a Town

The Talle of a Town

A Tale of a Town is part of the Toronto’s Artists in the Library program, an exciting initiative highlighting how libraries are reinventing themselves asessential spaces for the 21st century city. With free wifi, meeting space, and media collections libraries have become a choice workplace for the mobile class.

This post originally appeared on Spacing Toronto

A few weeks ago I biked over to The Guild park. Known for its collection of modern Toronto “ruins”, a bonus to visiting the park is its unobstructed view of Lake Ontario. Gazing from cliffs high above the water, far from the distractions of the Bluffs or the skyline, and without the Island and Leslie Spit interrupting the horizon, all that can be seen from the Guild’s vantage is sparkling and limitless blue.

It’s moments like this, high above the water along Scarborough’s cliffs, that confirm it for me. Calling this enormous body of water a Lake doesn’t do it justice. Lake Ontario — it’s a Sea.

When I was showing a friend from Sweden around Toronto last Winter, she looked over Lake Ontario and kept casually calling it “the sea”. In Swedish, sjörefers to both lakes and seas, so she wasn’t technically wrong. The roots of most Germanic languages make no distinction between lakes and seas, and it turns out, among today’s oceanographers, there is no accepted definition of sea.

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A German edition of an atlas map by French mapmaker Jacques-Nicolas Bellin from 1757, from The Historical Atlas of Toronto by Derek Hayes

The same goes for lakes. Though definitions vary, lake often refers to a small, inland body of water. And the way we use it, a lake suggests waters that are knowable, safe and domesticated — calm waters that you can dip your feet in at the cottage.

I know it’s just a matter of language, and may seem trivial. But the language we use says a lot about our relationship with the world, and Toronto could use some help reinvigorating its relationship with the vast body of water along its southern edge. Calling it a lake has made us forget about the water in our ideas of Toronto’s identity and geography. If we started calling it the Sea of Ontario, however, we would be acknowledging the water’s power and mystery, launching it into prominence in our civic mythology.

Over in the Middle-East, the Sea of Galilee is technically a lake. But its importance in the history and mythology of Western civilization transforms this tiny patch of fresh water into a Sea in our minds – a body of water with enough stories and myths that its worthy of its name. (For comparison, The Sea of Galilee is 166 km squared, whereas Lake Ontario is more than 18 000 km squared!)

Stormy Lake Ontario has been known to wreck ships

 Stormy Lake Ontario has been known to wreck ships

Of course, Lake Ontario has its own share of stories and myth. Though a “lake”, this body of water is a powerful force, as mighty as any sea. When stormy, its waves have battered boats and taken lives. Last March, the TRCA hosted Lake Ontario Evenings: Hidden Secrets of the Lake. The audience regaled in tales of Lake Ontario from geographers, historians and marine archaeologists. We learnt of shipwrecks from the War of 1812, and how Robert Ballard, an oceanographer of Titanic fame came to explore a pair of sunken boats, the Hamilton and Scourge. We learnt about the HMS Toronto, wrecked off the shores of Gibraltar Point in 1811, and the Monarch, which sank in 1866 off Ward’s Beach.

Throughout the evening, as the Lake Ontario experts shared secrets of the Lake, they kept accidentally calling it a sea.

The waters have brought trouble to more recent ships as well. I recently encountered a boat mechanic who worked on the short-lived ferry connection between Toronto and Rochester. Its failure is often explained as financial, but the mechanic told me that wasn’t the whole story. Apparently the catamaran, designed by an Australian company for ocean journeys in the South Pacific, couldn’t handle Lake Ontario’s waves. The powerful waters lead to mechanic failure, adding to the cost of operation. The ferry is now in Denmark after briefly doing service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangiers, Morocco, where it sailed passed the other Gibraltar Point.

Though the Great Lakes are often referred to collectively as inland seas, individually, they are rarely given the sea treatment. By taking cues from its size, its stories, and its scope, calling Lake Ontario a sea would elevate its status in the minds of Torontonians, enabling us to embrace our identity as a City by the Sea.

Forest Hill is changing.

One house at a time, the abundance of solid, modest 1940s era houses are being demolished, replaced by bigger, grander, and louder mansions. They tower over the increasingly rare, smaller houses.

Many streets, like the north side of Vesta Drive, west of Spadina, have been entirely transformed — no original house remains.

It is hard to lament the loss of mansions, as in this complicated and overwhelmingly unjust world, there are simply, more important things to spill ink over. As I explored in my first ever post on this blog, however, we cannot anticipate how the city will take itself up in the future, Today’s mansion neighbourhood is tomorrow’s subdivided, affordable apartment zone, as Toronto has experienced with the mansions along Jarvis Street. With this in mind, heritage, even in an exclusive part of this city, is important to consider given the extensions of time and transformations of space.

Regardless of the loss of old, beautiful, heritage and humble homes, and the influx of towering and garish mansions, the effect in the neighbourhood is mesmerizing.

A walk today through the streets of Forest Hill was accompanied by the clang of steel, a constant buzz of power tools, an incessant banging of hundreds of hammers. We are witnessing the metamorphosis of a neighbourhood. It is shedding a new skin, and is doing so rapidly.


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Far from the Bloor Viaduct and the concentration of touristy Greek restaurants, Art of the Danforth is a semi-annual art festival along the “other” Danforth, east of Greenwood to Woodbine.

Last May, I was delighted to participate in the festival in collaboration with Sean Martindale.

Half whimsical art project, half participatory urban planning exercise, Dan/Dani IV invited passersby to participate in various activities that crowned them King/Queen of the Danforth for the day, including the big question, “What would you do if you were King or Queen of the Danforth for a day?”

My contribution to the project was a flag making workshop. I worked with participants to create their own flags to reflect their lives and connection to their neighbourhood.

The result was amazing! Beyond some Pizza flags and Ice Cream Cone flags from the youngest Kings and Queens, the result was hyper local flags that included symbols of very small slices of the neighbourhood — a welcome move away from flags that erase the overwhelming diversity of a country under a simplified symbol.

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Imagine a Toronto where every neighbourhood had its own flag, every street, every street corner? We would feel mighty connected to those flags, I imagine — and to those places by extension. Perhaps designating official neighbourhood flags would be the first step toward a decentralized Toronto government, where neighbourhoods could call their own shots, relying on a central city government for services like water and transit. Cabbagetown and the Toronto Island already have theirs!

My favourite flag of the workshop was this one below — the flag, resembling the St Andrew’s cross, was actually a depiction of the paths and gardens of the Robertson parkette at Danforth and Coxwell!

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Making flags with the good people of Danforth East was such a pleasure. Please enjoy the photos, and see you at the next flag making workshop!

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Exciting news, readers!

This weekend, I am returning to Upper Economy, Nova Scotia, to participate in White Rabbit, an artist residency by the Bay of Fundy. The residency is hosted on a piece of land called Red Clay, a hilly terrain characterized by organic gardens, meadows, ponds and forests.

The week-long residency culminates in a festival, where visitors from near and far will come to enjoy the projects, celebrating with live music,  delicious food and fire spectacles.

The Bay of Fundy has the largest tides in the world, and I am excited to experience this epic, and subtly shifting landscape as we approach August’s full moon. I will be exploring, creating and learning with 15 other artists, including my brother Jonathan — a major support, influence and inspiration in my life.

Toronto Island Framed

Inspiration for the project, on Toronto Island this past winter.

My project, Framing Red Clay, proposes to place seven to ten frames of varying sizes around the land, with an illustrated companion map so visitors can find their way. The frames will be made of found material, incorporating the most natural and the most artificial objects littered throughout the landscape. It was inspiring by my wanderings around Toronto Island this past winter, where blank ferry schedule signs unintentionally left vistas framed for consideration.

Ideally, I hope to evoke laughter with this project. I also look forward to getting deep into ideas of the Nature-Culture binary that has characterized my Urban Geography practice. I am excited to collaborate with others, and am open to the inevitable changes to the project the intersection of the land, my state of mind, the weather and the dynamics of the group will bring to its manifestation.

Here’s to a week of contemplation, good food, friends new and old, and landscape-based art making. And see you next Saturday, at the White Rabbit Open Air Art Festival!

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Spending many days beside the Gibraltar Point lighthouse has got me thinking about the deep roots of Toronto’s colonial history.

The lighthouse was built in 1808, and is the oldest stone building in Toronto. The lighthouse might seem out of place several hundred meters from the sandy shore of the Gibraltar Point beach. Originally built at the water’s edge, the Island’s constantly shifting sands and accumulations from deposits from the Scarborough Bluffs have stranded the lighthouse inland.

I often look at the lighthouse and the bulking skyline articulated by the CN tower just beyond it and realize that the solid stone lighthouse and the towers across the bay are directly linked to each other. The lighthouse was the British’s first attempt at establishing a permanent settlement in this part of the world. It’s guidance of boats around the Island and into the protected bay enabled the growth that eventually lead to the modern mountain of glass and steel that exists today. The lighthouse and the CN tower are in a constant conversation of imperialism, assertion and power on the landscape.

That was a little wordy, and aren’t things better in comic form? Please enjoy my comic TORONTO EMERGES, produced for distribution at Doors Open Toronto 2014!

DOTO Comic

I began thinking of Amsterdam as a watery place when I was living there last year.

The following is a simpler manifestation of the thoughts that form the basis of this piece – thoughts that had my head spinning as I biked along the city’s waterways. 


 

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No one told me that Amsterdam was built on the bottom of the ocean floor. I had to piece it together myself – and I only realized after a few months of wandering around.

With canals, constant rain and a maritime tradition, I knew that Amsterdam was a watery place. But I didn’t quite expect a city at the bottom of the sea.

My first clues were in the dialect. Dutch is a water based language. The next tip-off was, despite being several kilometres inland, the presence of salty air.

It finally became obvious when I started paying attention to city construction crews. They would unravel interwoven brick roads to reveal the sand just beneath the surface of the city. When an entire road is repaved in Amsterdam, a beach appears between the two sides of the street.

Taking advantage of these exposed patches, I would put my hand on the ocean floor and feel the sand. I found sea shells there, under the streets.

In Amsterdam, there is sand everywhere. Piles of sand sit along the canals. A fine layer of sand covers the streets and sidewalks.

Along the bigger canals, I would watch long flat boats, carting piles of sand along the country’s internal waterways.

I hear a lot about Dutch land reclamation projects making land where there was once water.

When it rains in Amsterdam, it feels like the process is being reversed. Hovering above the sea floor, water reclaims the land and air above it.

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This piece will be appearing in the forthcoming issue of Hey Now, a small batch magazine published in Wychwood Heights, Toronto, Ontario