Unconditional Influence… and Inspiration

Photo by David G. Tran. For more photos, see

Unconditional Influence… and Inspiration

This morning I awoke to the usual blare of the local news channel on my clock radio. But amidst the continuing news of the Gulf oil spill and the stock market’s rise or fall, the announcer reported something strangely different:  Some unusual rock statues had “appeared” in the Humber River, near the Old Mill subway. And the creator of them was unknown.

Living nearby, I decided to cycle up to that section of the River later in the day to see for myself. And sure enough, 20+ “inukshuk-like” rock statues had been created in a circle in the middle of the shallow river. People were there with their cameras, some on the shore, some in the water. A local cable TV station truck and reporter were on the bank, waiting to interview the now-discovered creator of the statues. And by the time I left the valley, another TV station had shown up to report on the event too.

So why the all hubbub?  Why did this simple incident get close to top billing on the morning’s news? Why were people taking time off work to see it, and TV news reporters scrambling to cover it?

As I cycled away from the site, the words “unconditional influence” came to mind. And it reminded me of my first experience with a similar “rock builder” on the edge of English Bay and Stanley Park in Vancouver, over a dozen years ago.

An Unbelievable Sight
That day, my partner and I were walking along the Stanley Park seawall. Suddenly we came across these multiple pillars of rocks, 5, 6, even 7 stones high, standing along the water’s edge. These weren’t just flat-edged stones piled on top of flat-edged stones. They were rocks of all shapes and sizes, from small stones to large boulders, placed on top of one another in the most precipitous of ways. And the balance was extraordinary. In fact, it was “impossible.” I was SURE that there must be either a rod down the centre of them or that some type of glue was involved.

But as we stood there, watching the man who was building these stone sculptures, there were no tricks involved. It was just one rock placed upon another… higher and more precipitously than one could almost imagine.

I stayed for the longest time, marvelling at the feat; watching this man of incredible focus ‘listening’ to each rock as he placed it on the one below. It seemed like he was in some kind of zone, some place of deeper awareness, that allowed him to place these rocks at impossible angles. And each pillar withstood the elements and gravity after he was done.

As I watched him at his ‘craft,’ I was awed. Mesmerized. And inspired. I wanted to know to know how he did it. And I started to want to do it myself. So later that morning I talked with the rock builder, whose name was Daryl Maddeaux.

Just Loved Doing It…
As a youngster, Daryl loved to pile rocks along the Nashwaaksis River near his home in Fredericton, New Brunswick. At first he built forts and dams, then other shapes and designs. He didn’t do it for fame or notoriety; it wasn’t to impress the girls or make a buck. It was simply because, as he said to me, “I just loved piling rocks.” And now here he was on the West coast, still piling rocks — but in ways people could scarcely believe were possible. Each time he did his art, or craft, crowds of people stopped to watch him. And a local TV news station did a story on him too.

In turned out that Daryl had been through some really hard times in his life. (I think he was even living on the street for a time, but don’t quote me.) But then he became known for his rock work. Each time he did it, people would come. And it stirred or awakened something down deep in his watchers. 

With some of us, he also took time to talk about what it meant for him… balance, patience, and doing what seemed to be “impossible.” People took pictures. They left him tips. And they told others. He began receiving invitations to do his work in different parts of the United States. And eventually he took his show on the road.

The Man and the Idea Travelled…
In the Fall of 1992, when the climate got too cold for piling rocks in Vancouver, Daryl travelled to Laguna Beach, California. Newspapers and TV stations there saw the same magic in his work, and interviewed him frequently. From there he was invited to Dana Beach, and then to San Diego. And in each place, it was the same phenomenon. People couldn’t get enough of what he was doing.

One day a school teacher came by and asked if she could bring her class down to see and hear him talk about his work. The next day she showed up with 20 grade six students. And Daryl found himself talking to the kids about the power of imagination, possibilities and how great it was to be “Different.”

Word quickly spread — and soon he was loading trucks full of rocks to take into local Schools. There he would demonstrate his “rock on rock” building and share his message: That “IMPOSSIBLE” was just a word. That kids didn’t have to just fit in and do what everyone else did. They could “be somebody” by being themselves, and doing what was in their heart or what they loved to do. He was an example of that. And soon he was making a name for himself as a public speaker.

Everywhere Daryl went, people saw something powerful in his work. And they wanted more. Movie stars and royalty invited him to come and pile rocks where they lived. Mayors invited him to their cities. He travelled to different parts of Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Europe. And in his own way, he became “famous.”

Others Followed…
The last time I saw Daryl Maddeaux, he was at the CNE (the Canadian National Exhibition) in Toronto about six years ago. An ornamental rock and landscaping company had hired him to do what he did so well in front of crowds there, to attract attention to the company’s work. And it worked. The people came and stared — or should I saw gawked — just as I had done years earlier.

While Daryl seldom travels back to the shores of English Bay where I first saw him, others along that Stanley Park waterfront have followed in his footsteps. Each has their own distinctive style and method of piling stones. Some are more artistic, others more rudimentary. Some incorporate other media (like driftwood) into their stone sculptures. None has the sheer prowess and skill for ‘balancing rock on rock’ that Daryl has. Yet all are appreciated by passersby for their handiwork.

And that brings me back to today’s scene along the Humber River. Here was one more person who’d picked up on “the craft” and was doing his own thing. And once again, people noticed.

Something in Us is Moved…
Apparently the rock builder — a local artist and photographer named Peter Riedel — had done it late the previous afternoon and evening, without neighbours noticing. He wasn’t selling or promoting anything and didn’t leave a calling card. He was just doing it, he said, to help calm and clear his head during a hard period in his life.

But the next morning, his inventiveness and creativity woke people up — so much so that dozens called local radio and TV stations to tell them of the spectacle they’d discovered. Reporters wanted to know more too. And eventually they located who’d done it, and brought Peter down to the river for interviews.

Those words “unconditional influence” keep coming to mind. One person does something, and it inspires others. Some stand and stare. Some take photos. Some wonder how it’s done. And some want to try it for themselves.

It’s not done with the intention of trying to get people to do anything or take any action. It just seems to spring from a place inside the first person — a desire to express, a way to calm, or an act of love in the doing of it. But in so doing, it inspires, delights and moves others to take actions of their own… just as it has inspired me to write this.

What is it that you love to do — that inspires people simply by watching you do it?


“Rock on Rock” statues by Daryl Maddeaux

Note: Daryl Maddeaux is returning to the CNE and the Garden Show
(Heritage Court in the Direct Energy Centre) this year,  from Aug. 20 to Sept. 6, 2010.

2 Responses to “Unconditional Influence… and Inspiration”

  1. Glo McArter says:

    I felt inspired as I read this. How the creativity and passion infused into a person’s craft can give life to the result. “A rock is more than a rock” — it is life’s longing for itself. I like the inspiration that comes with presence, with the interaction of the rock and the human, and your inspiration that comes with the resonance of your heartfelt energy. Thanks.

  2. Eric Hurczak says:

    I had the priviledge of watching Daryl Maddeaux performing his “awareness art” at the CNE yesterday and was blown away at what I saw. Some of his creations looked like they were defying the laws of physics or gravity.

    If you attend the CNE go see this incredible guy do his stuff. You’ll be impressed.