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A balance-field pierces the river; rock upon rock teetering precariously between art and avalanche.

In an ankle-deep stretch of running water, where the Humber River scythes through Etienne Brule Park, Peter Riedel builds statues from riverbed stones. For hours on end, he wades around looking for raw material. He spends hours more fighting physics, as he painstakingly counterweighs the rocks to create a fragile Stonehenge.

The end result borders on illusion - dozens of delicately balanced towers climbing out of the river, some up to 1.5 metres tall. Most look like they just shouldn't be: an upside down L-shaped slab the size of a bodybuilder's arm atop a series of smaller rocks; a half-dozen stones resting in a playing-card pyramid. At the right time of day, the sunlight bounces off a nearby building's solar panels and casts the whole gallery in a perfect lens flare. The effect leaves the endless parade of joggers mesmerized - by the time most people get to the park, the artist is long gone and only the towers and the trees are left.

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Mr. Riedel, 47, is not a professional artist. He was not commissioned or asked to do this. The days he dedicates to creating these works of gravity are, he says, a form of peace.

"I get lots of thank yous, but it's not my reason for doing it," he said. "It's a way to unwind and meditate - the positive response is just a bonus."

The most common question Mr. Riedel fields when he's spotted putting these statues together is what sort of adhesive he uses. But there is none, only calm hands and a series of impeccable balance points.

This hobby was born of nostalgia. Originally from Montreal, Mr. Riedel spent some time living in land-locked Atlanta, before coming to Toronto four years ago.

"I missed living near the water," he said. "When I came to Toronto, the first place I started hanging out was Sunnyside Beach."

With Lake Ontario ahead of him and the cityscape to his back, Mr. Riedel began building his statues at Sunnyside, copying an artist he'd seen in Vancouver's English Bay.

He found his newest canvas last week by accident. "I was shooting some real estate at the Old Mill Inn," Mr. Riedel, a photographer by trade, says, "and I discovered the mecca of rocks."

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Over the next three days, he put in seven hours creating a stunt course for the seagulls.

Last Friday, Stephen LeBlanc was walking through Etienne Brule when he caught sight of the balancing stones for the first time. The professional designer said he had never seen anything like it.

"I was just stunned," Mr. LeBlanc said. "It's so site-specific - it lifts right out of riverbed. You can't do that in just any old place."

It wasn't just the sheer number of rock formations jutting out of the water that struck Mr. LeBlanc, or the variety of design - it was the spontaneity of it all.

"This is so informal. It's just one guy who felt like doing this, it's not like some patron hired a sculptor."

Yesterday, most everyone who walked past the statues during the lunch-hour break was pleasantly surprised.

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The lone negative comment came from a power-walker, who proclaimed as he passed briskly by: "I think it's hideous; what's wrong with nature? They look like pagan idols."

Inevitably, Mr. Riedel's sculptures will come crashing down. The park's very mechanics - everything from a strong breeze to a distracted bird - can prove fatal. Sometimes collapse comes at the hands of a dumbfounded onlooker, who simply can't believe the rocks aren't fused together.

Mr. Riedel doesn't mind.

"It gives me a clean slate."

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