I have confessed my addiction. When I go on daily walkies I walk randomly around my neighborhoods in several different patterns so I don’t get bored, unlike my Friday night swim which is a destination adventure. Until I walk out the door and down to the end of the driveway I rarely know which corner I will turn on tonight’s constitutional. The randomness satisfies the other part of my addiction: nosiness and curiosity. I love seeing the changes in people’s yards and gardens, the improvements they make to their homes, and the different walkers I pass by. I imagine a plethora of “lady walkers” (I pass few men walking) as I think of them: ladies of all ages, young and old, on patrol, so to speak, watching; the eyes of the neighborhood in the evening. Don’t cross those lady walkers, if you know what’s good for you.
On Sundays however I always know exactly where I’m going. There and back again. Faith’s Labyrinth is its own destination adventure. Every Sunday I take a quiet and solemn private journey. It’s a short walk from my home to the corner of the local university campus. I’ve spoken previously about Faith’s Labyrinth in a Gratitude Sunday post.
The design is a simple standard pattern widely used on college campuses, in parks, and churchyards. A labyrinth is not a maze, which is built to mystify and confuse. A labyrinth is meant as an aid on one’s spiritual journey, to center one’s self, and ground the body of the self to the earth, and is not generally affiliated with formal or organized religions. Faith’s Labyrinth is a combination of red and gray rounded brick-like cobblestones, red marking the path, gray marking the border. Directly south of the labyrinth grows an old oak and east of the oak is an old cedar tree. Bordering the outside are ornamental grasses, a low growing ground cover that blossoms tiny pink bell-like flowers in the spring, and other landscaped bushes. The ornamental grasses grow tall throughout the summer and fall hiding the labyrinth from the street and sidewalk, then are cut back after they die in the autumn frosts.
The vicinity is rich with history. To the west of the labyrinth across the street is one of the original 1920s AT&T Ma Bell telephone buildings made of heavy red brick. Designed to serve the west side of the extended metro area, it had housing for a couple of the big phone service trucks the company used to own, and space for the old room-sized telephone exchange switching unit which served the local area before everything went digital. The phone company maintained residence lines, provided repair service, and maintained pay phones on most town corners, back when phone numbers were three or five digits long and rotary dial was the only choice. Back then, where I lived, you had to rent the phone from the phone company. I remember in the 1960s how it was a big deal when you could buy your own phone and not have to pay so much to Ma Bell every month.
Next door just south of the Ma Bell building, is what’s left of our burg’s first gas station, which was converted from the original town stables and livery. The building now houses a store for antiques and collectibles.
South of the labyrinth past the oak and cedar, across the main arterial which takes people one way west toward the Oregon beaches, is our town’s first movie theater built in 1914. Now home to local live community amateur theater it has become a destination site for the extended metro area. The building retains its original tiny box office, neon marquee, and star quality charm.
To the north of the labyrinth sits the oldest building west of the Rockies that has been in continual use for education since 1851. Originally a classroom, it now houses the university’s museum. This is not the original site of the building which has traveled three times to different locations on campus to where it now lives. East of the labyrinth is one of the original Carnegie Academic Libraries built in 1912. Not now used as a library, the edifice is still an important feature on campus, used as classrooms. Both buildings are spitting distance from the labyrinth.
Because the grasses are cut down once a year and the oak foliates in the spring and defoliates in the fall every year, the labyrinth experiences constant change even without a person to walk its path. The side where the museum sits is almost always in sun; the bricks have little or no mosses growing in the cracks. Where the oak and cedar grows on the opposite side, the stones sport thick lumpish growths of green, reddish, and brown mosses. When the oak dumps its leaves in the fall the carpet of yellow and orange obscure the pattern altogether.
Silly me, I’m the one who calls Grounds Maintenance and asks them to make sure the contracted landscape gardeners clean the leaves from the face of the labyrinth. I love the leaves, their color and smell, and the crunch as I walk through them, but despite how many times I’ve walked this pattern, my brain does not/has not memorized it. I need to see the design to walk the path. There can be a huge disparity between the two sides of the labyrinth depending on where the sun is; sometimes the transition from sun to shadow is so rapid within the bends and circles of travel the eyes cannot react quickly enough. Rain is the double feature of fall – and spring – in our area; when the leaves are wet, the slick bricks become rather dangerous to navigate. Safety first, I always say. With my fantastic histories of falling I can’t be too careful.
The labyrinth is tricky. It seems to take you immediately to the center, but fools you and takes you immediately out again to begin the circles. You must use your vision in a special way to use the path. (My vision is a unusual in that I have to make a conscious effort to look past the purkinje trees, the little capillaries in the eyes. My optometrist says this is not supposed to happen, that you shouldn’t “see” the capillaries in your eyes. You should just “see”. I maintain there are different ways of seeing.) You have to look down at the cobble-stoned pathway to know where to go but you must also look up at the wider view simultaneously so as not to get dizzy and fall. The bricks red/gray, gray/red are mesmerizing. The stones are always in the same place but they seem to move right along with you as you walk. After being on the pathway for a minute or two you can’t tell one hairpin turn from the next, only that some are closer together than others. As you near the center, the path seems to take you to the center and fools you again as in the beginning, taking you back away from the center, then right back so you are at the center finally, after all.
The return journey to the outside has the same trick in reverse. When leaving the center it appears as if you are directly leaving the labyrinth, but no, the path turns and you are sent around another curve. Then just when you think you have lost count of the circles and are thinking you’ve walked enough and surely the end must be near, there you are leaving the labyrinth only to be sent around one more corner. Fooled again. Finally the last turn and out into the “real” world you are once again.
Physically using the labyrinth had changed my body. You wouldn’t think once a week would make a difference, but just like my once a week swim, it does. The first two weeks I walked the labyrinth my knees ached like everything the day after. After that they were fine; they felt great. I mentioned it to my doctor and she thought the repeated hairpin curve action had strengthened the series of muscles around my knee and knee cap. I like it. She suggested short flights of five or six stairs for further strengthening, but I don’t “see” stairs right (my vision does an Escher-like thing with the perspective of stairs) and have a tendency to fall. I’ll be sticking to flat ground for a while yet.
The silent journey to the center of Faith’s Labyrinth every week is invaluable to me. A weekly ritual, no matter what it is, is important to one’s emotional and spiritual wholeness, and for the health of the body. Once a week I know exactly where I’m going. There and back again.