There were significant bookends to the first 6 months of my pilgrimage. I started out with the the workshop in Chartres in May and my time in the USA ended with the annual gathering of the Labyrinth Society on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound at the end of October.
The gathering is an opportunity for builders, facilitators and other people who are passionate about all things labyrinthine to get together and exchange ideas and share from their vastly varying experiences. For me it was also an opportunity to reunite with some of the labyrinth buddies I had acquired as I travelled from one side of the continent to the other. As Emily Simpson was there (powerhouse behind the building of the Centennial Park labyrinth) I also had my first Aussie hug in ages!
The Hall’s Hill labyrinth was built by the water’s edge, surrounded by trees in resplendent autumn colours that glittered and glowed in the slanting light of the setting sun. The first time I walked it I was absorbed in the beauty of the environment and intrigued by many of the objects that appear within the path. With the cool air on my skin I finally felt as if I could breath deeply and easily after the smoke choked skies of California!
It was after Jeffrey gave his presentation on the process of building the labyrinth and the meaning and significance that had been incorporated into it, every step of the way, that I knew I had to revisit and walk it again. For his mosaics Jeffrey hand picks all of the stones from beaches and river beds. He always replaces ones that have critters housed beneath them and hauls the chosen ones in buckets to his car. The Hall’s Hill labyrinth is based on the 11 circuit Chartres labyrinth. The outer circuit he dedicated to the moon. It includes symbols to represent the totem plants and animals for each full moon occurring throughout a year. Other circuits are dedicated to Pluto, Mars, Jupiter (includes lightening bolts for the god Zeus made with small rocks from Greece) and the other planets. The 4 quadrants are made of different coloured stones to convey the 4 seasons and there are large granite boulders marking out the cardinal directions. Most moving were his stories of the community circuit where he called upon Bainbridge Island dwellers to contribute stones or other objects that held significance for them. There are small memorials, which may be as simple as a heart shaped piece of pottery, dedicated to 3 young men who died from methamphetamine addiction. Other people and pets are also commemorated.
At a short distance from the labyrinth is a bronze Tibetan prayer wheel. It sounds a bell on every 9th turn and sends people’s intentions out into the world. If people engaged in conversation with Jeffrey during the building process then went and turned the wheel and released their intention he would create a mosaic flower for them in the path. Another story told of a woman who brought her visually impaired brother to visit the project. He would explore the cobbled paths with his hands.
At the end of his talk I had the impression of a beautiful soft soul who is sensitive to the universe, to nature and to people with a vast knowledge which indicated deep, deep research undertaken on every level on behalf of the work he undertakes. He opened up a whole new relationship for me with the Chartres style labyrinth, wresting it from the insistently Christian context that it is often presented in. I would highly recommend going to his blog jeffreybalegardens but be prepared to be immersed for a long time. He is currently involved in another fascinating project in Glenorchy on the south island of New Zealand. Once again these accounts give an idea of the intellectual, physical and spiritual rigour that go into Jeffrey’s work.
Another highlight was the presentation by Denny Dyke of Circles in the Sand. Residing in Bandon, Oregon Denny has adopted the beach at Face Rock viewpoint as the canvas for his incredible sand labyrinth creations. They are on a scale and have a complexity that I have never seen in a beach labyrinth before. He and his team build them for marriage proposals, children’s birthday parties as well as for the general public to walk and enjoy. Particularly poignant are the ones he has built for memorial services: the pattern, the mementos all get swept away as the tide comes in. Very apt for the end of one life form and possible transition to another.
The sand that we had available to work with on Bainbridge didn’t do justice to the scale and quality of Denny’s work. I recommend watching the video on his website. He has now spent hours and hours walking beaches, watching tides, complying with the constraints of wind and rain, watching both sun and moon rise and set. I had the feeling that just hanging out with this salty old soul would mean harvesting gentle wisdom shared at unpredictable intervals.