one sunrise at a time

This field hasn’t changed much over a century and a half.

Hemmed in by the human activity surrounding it, it has been razed to the ground repeatedly since that time. It has held train cars, parked automobiles, and collected bonfire wood. And each time, many of the same plants that have thrived on it for centuries would come back. Within a few years, once again, the field would return to its recognizable self.

In the meantime, most of the human activity surrounding it aimed for endless, limitless growth. The exception was the Carmelite monastery, itself an oasis from the ever-changing modern world. The train station, storage and buildings around the field were no doubt proudly seen by their builders as a first step into a future where some day an even bigger train station would be built. It would then be able to serve a much bigger city stretching around it. Indeed, the city has continued growing outwards in all directions, but such growth is never as steady and perpetual as some progress-minded people fool themselves into believing. The fact that the era of ten and twelve story clothing factories barely lasted a couple of decades is a good example. It is a mere blink of an eye in the history of the vacant lot. The people who built the factories probably thought they would one day be replaced with even bigger buildings. Right now, many of them aren’t as full of tenants as they should be. The atmosphere and infrastructure of this brief industrial area is looking more and more out of place as other uses for these buildings evolve.

So, have we learned our lesson? I think not. For a little while, city administrators started seeing a different sort of endless growth. One that looked like a housing boom, and one which would never end. It would transform the abandoned buildings and fields into a new growing neighbourhood. Once again, an ambitious vision of rapid growth was laid out, but the vision had to again come back down to reality. A reality that is much more slow-moving and less hungry for growth than some people are willing to accept.
Nearby residents who have a modest vision of the lot’s potential in the short term — focusing on how it could best serve the people who live near it and use it today — would ironically be better placed to see their efforts endure over the long term than those who imagine a whole new neighbourhood about to pop up during this supposedly never-ending building boom.

In the end, humans are no less bound by the laws of nature than the rest of the natural world is. No plant or animal can keep growing bigger and bigger without ending up too far from its life-giving roots to be able to survive. Man often fools himself into believing that this time, he’s built an industry, a country, or a scheme that will keep growing at a steadily increasing pace forever. Such schemes can stay aloft on the strength of dreams for so long before they become so disconnected from reality that they come crashing down.

The empty lot never had that problem – it never built itself back to more plants or more life than it could sustain for itself. Along with the monastery, it has been a silent witness to folly, perfectly content to be its modest self, taking things one sunrise at a time.

Louis Rastelli

Louis Rastelli helps operate a non-profit arts organization, Arcmtl, which promotes, distributes and archives local independent culture. In this capacity he organizes the Expozine annual bilingual small press fair and runs the Distroboto network of former cigarette vending machines that now sell art, music, films, books etc. in bars and libraries around Montreal. He is also a writer whose recent novel, A Fine Ending (Insomniac Press) is set in the Plateau/ Mile End district in the 1990s.

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