I arrived on Toronto Island just a few weeks after September 11th, feeling very aware of the fragility of life. The skyscrapers of Toronto seemed vulnerable and Toronto Island itself – in comparison to the rocky island I had come from – seemed like a tiny slip of land that could easily be blown away.
It was important for me at the time to speak about the brevity as well as the interconnectedness of life. When I learned that 10,000 people once lived on the island (the same population as where I live – Saltspring Island) but most of their homes had been expropriated and razed, I was deeply moved. I wanted to honour the people who, despite this, continue to care for and work towards a viable and permanent Toronto Island community. I decided to write the names of the people who lived there on the leaves – one name to each leaf. Then I visited the archives and spoke to islanders, and was able to gather the names of a thousand more people who had once lived on the island, and the names of the wild animals who lived their too. These names I also wrote on leaves. The leaves chosen were those of the Cottonwood, (Poplar) whose roots hold the sands of the island together.
As I wrote the names, I quietly spoke a meditation prayer for peace to each person. I then strung each leaf with cotton thread, and hung them from the ceiling of my studio. They floated delicately, filling the room with their presence. Several small fans kept them moving gently. I played a CD of Pacific Ocean sounds, which were echoed by the waves of Lake Ontario outside the window. I left a trail through the leaves for people to walk. When surrounded by the leaves, people said they felt like they were being showered with energy or were inside a slow fall of snow. A few people said they could feel my prayers.
When my residency was finished, it was the last day of October. I took down all the leaves and returned them to the forest. My studio was bare. Toronto Islanders were still being told that their homes were not safe from destruction, and Albert, the island archivist, continued to collect the memories of those who were gone.
|"Only connect the prose
and the passion,
and both will be exalted,
and human love
will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments
- E.M. Forster