Short Life – Long Branch


Permanent Installation, Donald Forster Sculpture Park, Guelph, Ontario



I love to skate. This has led me into all sorts of interesting territory since my preferred surface is black ice naturally formed and my favourite ‘rink’ is the stretch of lagoon that exists between the 15 islands of the Toronto Island archipelago where I live. The fact that Toronto’s climate is decidedly mild in comparison with most of the rest of Canada means that good ice is hard to come by and that the outdoor skating season is short. I don’t let this stop me and herein lies the essential problem that led to the creation of Short Life – Long Branch.

One fine day just before Christmas I was completing an afternoon skate on the lagoons. The sun had been out all day, it had been a beautiful sunset and now it was getting dark. As I neared the island where I live, content with the day’s activities and a little tired I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the ice conditions ahead. The currents circulating around the islands vary according to local conditions and are hard to read. They can play havoc with the thickness of the ice. I quickly found myself over my head in icy cold water in the deepest part of the lagoon. Normally, I can use my hockey stick to pull myself up and onto good surrounding ice in the event of a dunking but this time the ice refused to stand up under my weight and I kept breaking through. In this situation THE BODY GOES INTO ADRENALIN OVERDRIVE. It demands to be rescued, to get out of the cold. When this demand is not answered fairly quickly a form of panic sets in. I was definitely heading this way and started yelling for help. Most people on my island were done for the day and had gone inside for dinner and a quiet night watching TV. My calls were not answered for what seemed like hours. Then, I saw my neighbour Leida come flying out of her house — my saviour!

Not quite because she was having the same trouble as me. Her instinct to simply walk out and grab me resulted in more broken ice. I could see her frantically looking for a tool to lengthen her reach. She grabbed the broken branch of a nearby willow tree and started a belly crawl toward me. Sure enough, this strategy worked and she was able to connect with me using the branch. I grabbed on tight and threw myself onto the nearby ice. It broke through again and then miraculously held long enough for me to reach the area on which she lay. We both skittered off the lagoon and I lived to tell the tale.

Short Life – Long Branch is a memento mori. I cast two copies of the stick that saved me in bronze in homage to its simple strength and usefulness. There are several cast bronze skeletons in this work that do a kind of dance macabre on the length of the branches. The skeletons evoke the inevitable cycle of life and death. They also remind us to make the most of what we have at every moment.

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