By Marina Sacht
Jack Katzka’s home is easy to find. Just look for the inuksuit in front of a house in Cedar.
Jack started building the stone sculptures about three years ago – a year after moving to the property with his wife, Susan. The ditch in front of their home had been lined with river rock, so he had the materials at hand.
“It happened bit by bit,” recalls Susan, “an odd stack here and there, and as time went on, there were a few more and a few more.”
Now, the couple estimates, there are over 800 rocks used in the Inuit-inspired stacks.
“When I look at them, the way they’re laid out and they don’t fall over, that baffles me,” he laughs.
Gradually, the hobby became a daily activity in his life. “It’s something to do, and I really fell in love with that.”
“Plus,” adds Susan, “it’s very meditative.”
All of the figures are unique, with various shaped and coloured rock. They all have different features and some even look like the Muppets.
“My neighbours really like them, and people will slow down to take a second look. We had somebody stop from Nova Scotia to take pictures. It’s a good way to start conversations and meet people,” says Susan.
Besides being fun, building them is also therapeutic.
Jack is 67 years old, but he could pass for fifty, with Clint Eastwood good looks. Tall, slim and fit, he is not someone you would expect to get Alzheimer’s.
Jack was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years ago. The disease is a terminal illness that eventually affects all aspects of a person’s life: how they think, feel and act. Over time, a person’s ability to understand, think, remember and communicate will be affected.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada (ASC), as of 2016, an estimated 564,000 Canadians were living with dementia. By 2031, this figure is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66 per cent.
People diagnosed with the disease can live meaningfully and actively for many years. Eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, staying socially connected and doing things that challenge your brain also help slow disease progression, according to the ASC.
“Building the inukshuk is fun because you can make them do what you want them to do. It’s something you have control over.” The daily activity is good therapy to slow down the progression of the disease.
Inukshuk is a figure made of piled rocks that was constructed in ancient times to communicate with humans throughout the Arctic. Traditionally, they were used as helpers to the Inuit. They were hunting and navigational aids, marking coordinating points and message centres, and also had spiritual power. They were extremely important lifeline for survival offering guidance.
Others have been inspired by Jack and have started their own.
“I would love to have people come together and do this. Anywhere, throughout the community,” he says.
Jack has always been drawn to rocks. Susan once presented him with a gift-wrapped rock he had admired on the street. “It’s in here somewhere,” he says waving at the hundreds of figures.
The couple married eight years ago. “It’s been wonderful; it’s still wonderful,” he says.
Jack hands me a rock as I leave. I slip it in my pocket. In the car, I glance in the rearview mirror and see the figures made of piled rocks. The light has faded and the shadows dance across the inuksuit.
Give a person a rock. Start stacking.