sandarchy, graphite on paper, 10

A story from the corner store…all the way into a Mongolian sand storm.

At the platform created for passengers to wait and be picked up by buses, they have no bathrooms. Not anywhere that I have seen do they have bathrooms on the ttc (not like in the UK where you pay 50p to take a pee). After waiting for what seemed like 30min but was probably 8, I had to pee so badly that all I could do was image getting off the bus 10min later and running to the house over the ice. The bus finally came, loaded and disembarked north along Broadview ave, and I was bursting by the time I was dropped off beside the corner store. For an inexplicable reason I chose to go in, instead of running home. George was particularly talkative, and began unwinding what he remembered of strong winds blowing all through his childhood in China. I was fascinated, but had to run and told him why.

The next day I went back, and asked, what were you saying about Mongolia?

“It was china but bordering on Mongolia in the north. In the winter, nevermind the wind-chill, it was normally -50c. But the wind was always blowing, it would blow you over. We had summer storms as well, but instead of snow it was sand. Sunglasses would do nothing, we would have to wear goggles just to walk, nevermind riding a bike. ”

George was looking out the window at the chilly winter wind.

“When I visited the small town I grew up in, equal distance from Mongolia and Korea, there were these old walls I remember from being a kid. It was wall after wall built to hold trees to protect the city from the ever-approaching sand, trying to wash away our town. These trees were not so big though you see, maybe up to here, ”

Indicating with his hand about 5′ tall.

“They were not tall but they were old right? Like the trees I saw by the tree-line in the arctic.” I broke in.

“Yes, yes, incredibly old, 40-50 years, but they would not grow bigger than me.” George continued, “when I was visiting this town in the 70’s I found, horribly that the fences we built to keep the crops alive had decayed, since by the fourth tier of trees you can dig a foot and find water for the new saplings. That was the saddest part, that every 5-10 years the dead trees would have to be replaced, and were then used to rebuild the fences, but people had forgotten that this was our responsibility. The fence used to run through the whole north, northeast and northwest of the city. It was immense. I cannot imagine how it must be on the interior plain, where the wind is much worse, and they have larger cities like Shanghai.”

When I arrived home the image was so strongly drawn in my mind, I put it on paper.

mapping ‘mud creek watershed’

2014, 2'x4', ink, acrylic, hand made sumac ink and silkscreen on canvas.
2014, 2’x4′, ink, acrylic, hand made sumac ink and silkscreen on canvas.

this painting (captured with a horrid tiny broken phone camera) depicts the ‘don valley brickworks park’ which encompasses the “Weston Family Quarry Garden” or the quarry restoration by the T.R.C.A., and “Evergreen Brick Works” on the redeveloped industrial pad.

mud creek is the stream which trickles its way down from mount pleasant cemetery, crossing under the belt-line trail (built atop of a 50’s railway built through the valley) to terminate in the ponds. mud creek was diverted once for use in brick production, again to make way for the railway, once more when the trail was leveled out of the railway, and finally 10-12 years ago when the trca began the pond restoration. giant crack willow have swelled ambitiously along the lower stretches of mud creek, sucking up the abundance of nutrients washed down from human activity in rosedale. crack willow do send out clusters of showy seed into the wind, but they have a more obnoxious method of propagation: they replant themselves. many species do this obviously, but on certain slopes you can trace the evidence of successive generations of willow or apple, growing to a certain size and then dropping significant branches downhill/downstream where they root quickly back into the ground. moving upstream, or towards the top of the map, there is a stout bunching of oak, in a branching stem pattern suggestive of past harvesting, which has fallen over a large pool of oddly blue/green water, where mud creek emerges from its subterranean adventures in a spiral steel pipe. where mud creek merges through the successive ponds, down under an electrical building (oddly) before being divided in two and into the Don river i have seen giant prehistoric looking snapping turtles with all kinds of growth on its back, beavers, muscrat and countless other wild signs of regeneration.

when first approaching the capacity for the ‘don valley brickworks park’ to fuel educational activities by the charity which redeveloped the site, Evergreen, we realized the experience and learning gained by kids in our first experimental programs needed a way to be recorded. the first foray into mapping the park was carried out through google map, foot, and historical sources. hilariously we found that a pond indicated on public maps was actually a shadow cast by a hill on the google map. many such intricate crossroads between the published perception of the shape of the park and its reality when walked through. this silkscreen map then was mounted on paper and used to record the significant sightings and experiences of kids in the first green city adventure camp at the brickworks. mapping mud creek Green City Adventure camp, last day of first session from these initial mapping exercises, time was taken to reflect upon the most appropriate materials and venue for recording this ‘dirt time’ in nature, and displaying it to the public. eventually, a year or so later, the ‘Natural History Emporium of Mystery’ was installed near the boundary between Evergreen Brick Works and the Weston Family Quarry Garden. The Emporium features the same map lines sandblasted into an old schoolhouse slate for use with chalk, and a nature museum display mounted on an old 21′ heritage metal lathe from the brickworks. see the emporium here.

the painting pictured is one more iteration of interpreting the ‘don valley brickworks park’, trying to trace trough time the meandering of mud creek and its many inhabitants.

‘elements of green design’ – four films from Evergreen Brick Works green design exhibit 2010-2012.

it is a bit odd to compress the four films into one frame, when originally they were mounted separately 1 1/2′ apart. some of the audio which served to fill the space and compliment the busy flow through of traffic in the ground floor hallway of the center for green cities, now are competing in this 9 minute film. the footage includes years of environmental documentary footage, with compelling statements by key green leaders in toronto (the founders of auto-share and bullfrog power….) as well as architects and designers involved in the evergreen brickworks project.



Winter Solstice Basketry

Grown on the site of Evergreen Brickworks since its opening in 2010 from plants which regenerate annually and are cut late in the spring. the red osier dogwood is an important food source for birds and the black willow can grow up to 12′ a year. Both are native species are planted to begin natural restoration of the the five acre redeveloped industrial pad.
Often these plantings are originally grown in nurseries who focus on maximum yield since plant growth is tied to profit, and so they are flooded with fertilizers. These are then planted out, and the odd original shape obtained by the greenhouse growth of the plant stays with it as it matures, and therefore the shape of this plant as we now recognize it is misleading. dogwoods and willows have evolved to be stimulated by cutting/burning especially when the leaves have fallen and the energy of the plant is stored under the snow, in its roots. the form of a coppice stump, as it grows straight long shoots, is a beautiful thing to behold. often trimmed by beaver and muskrat, these long shoots are ideal material for basketry, and so are a living free renewable resource, who’s value can be added to immensely when planted close to an environmental center like the Evergreen Brick Works has become.

see the video of youth harvesting the black willow:

by planting species which have the highest yield of environmental and economic functions, we can work towards rekindling understanding of the role of ‘coppice’ plants and trees in responsible urban business practices of the future.
through experimentation in the pilot brickworks artist residency program, the dogwood and willow baskets will annually be available for sale in the Evergreen Garden Market for the holiday season, under the name: Winter Solstice Basketry.

Westward Wayward; a hitch-hiking journey from toronto to vancouver, dec. 2008

This is the documentation of a journey. From Toronto to British Columbia, beginning on Rememberance day, we managed a lift from a friend of a friend of my father’s, who dropped us a mere 5 minutes from the railway bridge from where the epic freight train virginity was to be, well you know. This is the first telling of this journey. Which, in fact, was the last cold leg of a long journey home, which began in april leaving england and concluded in december of 2007. This story will be elaborated on in the future, and made deeper. for now, let it suffice to say:


if you would like to read full commentary, please click here

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westward slideshow ho!

the “hunger games” curriculum.

beyond the political satire of the different districts, such as corporate mining villages in the global south, there are lessons to be teased out of the gory ’child vs. child’ narrative of “The Hunger Games” for environmental educators and naturalists.

emulating characters, events, and skills from “The Hunger Games”, such as having the ability to make a bow, quiver, arrows out of the woods,  is a controversial means of hooking kids back into environmental education by using their passion for popular culture against them.

sounds strange, i know, but it’s incredibly effective, and, arguably not just for kids. since seeing the movie, i have made this quiver from black willow and a half dozen arrows from goldenrod, manitoba maple, evening primrose, and other lightweight plants; and truth be told, even though i have been shooting a bow since i was the age of Rue (from the story) and making baskets for awhile now, this is the first quiver i have made…


this adaptation from pop culture certainly isn’t news…..using hobbit invisibility cloaks, or harry potter invisibility cloaks, or jedi invisibility cloaks, to inspire kids (and maybe yourself) to hide in the forests and fields is a popular strategy. it’s odd how much life and detail you see when crouched in a bush or behind a tree, waiting for prey or predators you imagine to be around…

but there is a huge difference between nature hide & seek and the intergenerational gladiator-style bloodbath of”The Hunger Games”. the desire to become the heroic characters in the film opens a door to conversation about fire by friction, bows and arrows, water, shelter, and others on the list which can otherwise be hard to smoothly bring up with a class of kids and their teacher. the key to delivering such curricula lies in redirecting the passion for the story and film away from bloody conflict or awkward teen angst and into skills which, through using natural materials, invites connection to the natural world. the stronger their passion for the film, the deeper their connection to nature. sound too good to be true? well, it takes something to improve on and teach the requisite skills needed to become Katnis….haha

but seriously….in “Catching Fire”,  the handrill used by contestants in a training scene, for example, was a bit flimsy.  and, rather than having Beetee (the techy) work the handrill alone, Katnis would have been better off having all three contestants work together, one after the other, to ensure that friction was properly applied. (i cannot help laughing at myself writing that last sentence–feels like gossip). but to continue: the fire board or hearth (the piece of wood they were pushing into with the hand drill between their palms) was improperly made; the hole needs to be nearer to the edge of the fire board, and have a notch cut in it to collect dust created by the smokey friction, which then amasses in heat and mass and becomes a coal, which then can be transferred to a tinder bundle and blown to flame.

this video illustrates fire by friction, and was made by sticks and stones wilderness school, whose courses cover many of the skills requisite for teaching kids, teens and yourself the ‘hunger games’ curriculum.

anyway, it is great to get kids and teens to try and make fire this way, and tis quite the challenge.

my intention in posting today’s blog is to initiate creative discussion on how to extrapolate lessons from pop content (which you may not approve of)–not really to critique the story, especially since i have not read the books.

my favorite recent incidence of using kids’ culture against them, in order to teach healthy lessons, comes from the land of infinite zombie books and movies. a camp counsellor was expressing frustration about a group of boys in her care; whenever the boys were drawn out into the woods and fields, they would instantly and irrevocably fall to chatting about zombies. all further inroads created to interject nature lore were eaten by their zombie minds (i love this sentence, btw ;).  luckily i was leant a book not long before, which could cure the boys, and subsequently her, of the zombie problem:  “The Zombie Survival Guide”


this is not directly related, but funny, i thought. A great/hilarious use of zombie culture (union station, 2008 i think) to get attention for climate change issues.

anyway, we managed to find a couple passages to read to the boys in camp about being able to hide and build shelter in the forest, which brought the program back on track, though still in the guise of zombie-survival. every day she would read a passage to pacify them, and inspire a group of eight to be able to survive the coming battle.

i imagine all these different characters, their dress, accents, weapons changing infinitely, nevertheless teaching the same lessons through guided imagination, teaching the same story to successive generations of kids, whether through the battles of gladiators, or man vs beast/nature/other people, and now children ala “The Hunger Games”.In the end the point is: remember who the real enemy is!

this enemy is not just whatever industrial mechanisms of control and oppression are being mocked/portrayed through “The Hunger Games” story, but the medium through which it is being displayed to us all: the theaterswhich pedal gmo corn and sugar, sensory deprivation and advertising, and the intention of an entertainment corporation to subvert moral messages in literature when adapting for the big screen, all for private gain….in some regards, it’s logical to stay away from the story altogether, since the gore and medium outweigh the leverage gained by using the survival scenarios from these stories, until you are ready to make a friction fire in -10c with a foot of snow like in toronto this evening…….

i’m sure friends at can help with this if you live in toronto…..good luck….and may the odds be ever in your favor!

tunneling into school

what? why would anyone want to tunnel back into school. well i have no idea, but in the past six years have been investigating how to build living tunnels in school grounds and gardens and have learned a thing or two about willow tunneling.

tis the season…..the season where the trees drop their leaves and go to sleep for the winter. the essential life energy is then held underground, and any alterations to the branches will little be felt. that is why working with willow is winter work. i’ve found that willow cut while the leaves are out ‘out of season’ have a 15-40% success rate when transplanting as cuttings. that 40% is only won through flooding the plants every two days in their first year. willows transplanted in late fall early spring while they are dormant has an >85% success rate, as long as they are cared for, kept damp-through mulching, soaker hoses, etc- and there are no air pockets which frost out the underground life of the cutting and turn black. if they have made it through the trials of year one, they will likely thrive and produce abundant off shoots which can then be harvested to make crafts, transplant, make sculptures or as a rooting hormone when soaked in water.

you’ve probably never thought about it, but there is a set of codified rules for what is safe to install in school grounds. in canada there are rules set forth by the Canadian Standards association, and include much of what you might expect: choking hazards and the like. as we love to do with rules, they are broken into categories and made specific; measurements and testing tools for hip, head and limb entrapment, a delightful series of rules about protrusions, and many standards for materials, surfacing and grade. the simplest method for avoiding these figurative headaches is to use asphalt, grass, and chain link fencing. by far the most challenging route to designing these spaces is to take irregular and decomposing natural materials like wood, plants and trees. this is precisely what heidi campbell and evergreen do ( alongside them i have learned a few tricks: try and design living structures whose woven cells ae over 9″ x 9″. this means no one will get trapped. anything sticking out-protruding-has to be cut so that its length does not exceed its width.

upon first hearing these rules i assumed that a living tunnel should be fully woven, so that no one will get stuck. as it turns out, children love to test structural stability, so no matter my attempts at designing without nails, anything woven with green material, once seasoned and shrunk, allowed the little hands to tear them apart (if left to their own devices; arguably you could direct their overabundant enthusiasm to rebuilding and tying the archways…). in the most recent design, the tunnel pictured in the film below has been planted with potted willow (since sometimes it is hard to get folks to water plants at school, especially in summer) and left to establish for a year before being woven into a diamond pattern. these loose branches cannot trap anyone, and are re-enforced by simple willow archways. moreover, the living branches do not shrink, and the diamond pattern allows the plants to ‘fill’ in, rather than left to grow straight up into trees. the condensed lesson here is: simplify and focus on designing the living elements to do the work, rather than spending time weaving as if its a basket.

tips for living willow structures: 

1-dormant! tis the season-make sure you confine willow cutting and transplanting to when the leaves have fallen.

2-choose cuttings from your local clime-plants will do better if already adjusted to soil/weather conditions.

3-no air pockets-ensure that bare root cuttings have no air pockets which can hold frost. jump on them.

4-place cuttings 8″ in the ground.

5-weed suppression-ensure that for 6″ minimum all around the cutting weeds are suppressed with black plastic/fabric/mulch.

6-rule of thumb-ensure that cuttings are larger than a normal adults thumb, seems to help them succeed (help me overwrite the sexist origin of this phrase).

7-water water water. every dry day in the first year. get the kids to do it-watering can chain.

Tips for Living Tunnels in Schools: 

1-involve kids-little hands can move mulch, make willow rope-every task is a teachable moment, you know, sense of ownership, cultivating stewardship ethic and empathy for living things.

2-simplify design-use archways to give form, but leave weave until 2nd year.

3-use a diamond pattern created by two 30 degree angles, bound with a willow whip in square lashing pattern, so willow fills cells created.

4-all cells created must be smaller than 3″ larger than 9″-to make sure no one gets stuck.

5-use potted material-existing roots will help success in first stressful year at school-the school ground can be a rough place for a plant.

6-arrange maintenance-ensure your artist/contractor visits twice a year.

7-find local knowledge to teach teachers; how to source, harvest, plant, weave and make rope-create curricular connections.

8-try and secure your own funding-or find local permaculture practitioners and see if someone will barter for baked goods.

9-as with the previous list-water water water! more water won’t hurt, but less can kill. 😛

tar sands training camp

In 2009, from January 16th-18th, a group of activists, environmentalists and students gathered in the University of Saskatchewan, for the first of many conferences created to educate and create plans to oppose tar sands development in the province. workshops about direct action and the media, creativity and environmental justice, were punctuated by panel discussions with experts and first nations people with first hand knowledge. A healthy example of what a small group of dedicated people can begin to do to oppose the policy and destruction of established industry.

fire knot works


many different knots emerge as the patterning of two weighted flames on a staff spin more efficient circles around your body with practice.


aka happy chanukkah


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