For a long time I have wanted to build a labyrinth at Sandhill, a spiraling path for intentional walking.
I’ve imagined it in the side yard, deliberately visible from the road and open to the sky. I’ve imagined in the backyard, a few yards from the pond and a bit more secluded.
For years I have collected stones from various places I’ve visited (including one protected seashore whose status I didn’t know until after I’d pilfered the stone), written the locations and dates on them with permanent marker and dropped them in flower beds to await their ultimate destiny as part of my construction project.
Tonight about eight o’clock, I went outside to get a closer look at a fawn that was nibbling away at Daddy’s peanuts in the field on the west side of the house. He’d been there earlier in the day when a couple of friends were visiting, but he’d been spooked by a passing car.
In the late afternoon sun, he’d ventured back out for another meal of the smooth green leaves and tiny yellow blooms folded flat like cut-out paper Valentines. I moved slowly down the field road with my camera in hopes that when he noticed me and took off running for cover I would be able to get a video for my friends.
He did eventually notice me and I did get a little footage of his tiny white tail bouncing across the field.
When he disappeared from view, I realized that I had tracked him into the middle of the field, that there were long straight lines stretching out on either side of me, and that the sandy white paths running between the rows reminded me of a labyrinth. Kind of.
I walked down the full length of one row, counted over 10 rows — a random number that seemed just the right width — and turned back into the field in the opposite direction. At the end of that row, I counted over another 10 rows and began again. Up, over, down, over. Up, over, down, over.
No one can be sure, but it is thought that the first labyrinths, built thousands of years ago, were meant to symbolize the paths to be followed in life, in daily and seasonal cycles, from birth to death to rebirth and to mimic the path of the sun in its circuit across the sky. Later, they were adopted by Christians as a substitute for long pilgrimages and symbolized the long and difficult path that the Christian followed toward redemption.
A true labyrinth contains no tricks or deceptions, no dead ends. It is a single wandering path that leads from an entrance to the center and back again.
At first I strolled slowly, hands clasped behind me, and I could almost see myself in a loose brown robe, barefoot, hair springing out in all directions, the reverential abbess of The Abbey of Sandhill.
The venerable vision didn’t last long, however. My natural stride, long and quick and purposeful, took over and it was just me moving up and down, back and forth.
I didn’t move so quickly, though, that I missed the signs of life at my feet— the divots of dirt left by the deep treads of marauding deer, the patches of grass sprouting up through the peanut vines, the wide tractor tire tracks. Across the way the sun was setting, warming the horizon with a low flame.
I figure I’d walked about a mile, weaving back and forth, by the time the flame went out over the treetops. And, just as with a real labyrinth, I came out where I started. So what, then, is the point? Isn’t a pilgrimage about getting somewhere? About making progress?
In Greek mythology Theseus went to the center of the labyrinth in order to slay the Minotaur, the monster inside.
There is, of course, a monster inside each of us. The monster of selfishness, of insensitivity, of pride and greed and envy. The monster will not slay itself and it will not come out on its own. We, each of us, must walk the narrow path to the center of our selves, face down and destroy the monster, and find our way back out. Out to the place of beginning.
In a few weeks the peanut vines will be lapped over, the rows hard to distinguish, the field one broad swath of dark green. Beneath it will be footprints finding their way to the center and back.