Saturday, 30 August 2014

More about the labyrinth: the sod-cutter cometh

I spent some time mulling over how on earth to make the labyrinth permanent — but without spending a lot of money.  Labyrinths can cost into the six-figure range and even higher, as you can see by clicking on to this link:

My preferences fell into the under-$1,000 range. After a wide-ranging Internet exploration, I was taken with the labyrinth at the convent of  the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Willowdale, Ontario. I walked it one chilly day in winter several years ago while on a retreat.  In fact, I wrote a poem about it earlier in this blog.

Here is a picture of their 11-circuit labyrinth. The path is a bit too narrow for my liking, but the mulch works well, and I like the rocks.


This is the URL for a description of how the sisters constructed their labyrinth:

When I consulted with Rick, our landscaper, about how to make the paths of the labyrinth permanent, he had a few suggestions that seemed to fit the bill and one that, as it turned out, didn't.  

He recommended using an 18-inch sod cutter to remove about two inches of thatched grass and roots. On top of the newly scalped path would go a layer of mulch to squelch the weeds.

The question was how much mulch. I determined the diameter of the labyrinth, and then Rick estimated six cubic yards would fill the path. As it turned out, we have some to spare but better than not having enough.

So this is how it all played out: First of all, the heavy equipment arrived. The young guy is trundling the sod cutter off the trailer.

The dump truck backed down to the labyrinth; six cubic yards seems ... well ... a lot;  we won't run out for a while!

Down it went into a handy pile: 

I suggested starting to cut the sod first from the centre and then going outwards would be easiest, as the turns would get progressively less tight. Also, they would end up with the cutter in the open not in the middle of a series of trenches to bump over in order to extricate it. However, after providing them with this illuminating advice, I left them to their own devices. Men seem to appreciate that.

There is no doubt that lifting sod is heavy work

Eventually, using the wheelbarrows got too onerous, and the front loader was brought in to help haul the sod bits to the sod pile. 

When this all breaks down, I'll have some really great compost.

This is what the finished path was like. We plan on putting rocks beside it. Fortunately there are a lot of rocks on PEI. More on that later. 

It felt good to walk the labyrinth. You may be wondering if I ever change my gardening clothes. The answer is no. You may also be wondering what I was carrying. It was a piece of plastic, which Rick felt we should put under the mulch to deter the weeds.

I experimented with  the plastic sheeting, but it felt very slippery underfoot. We have an endless supply of mulch, so adding more next spring might be the better plan. As a result, I decided not to use it after all. We now have the rest of a box of house wrap for our as-yet-to-be-built garden shed.

Next step was spreading the mulch. This necessitated buying a wheel barrow. I digress, but I may fill you in later, as this decision is a story in itself.

Anyhow, next time I would take a look at the mulch before buying it sight unseen. This has a few too many sticks in it, but frugal soul that I am, I will separate them  for use as kindling.

It took me about four or five  hours, spread over as many days, to carry and spread the mulch. This is our handy light-weight, two-wheel wheelbarrow.

I am not sure if I have spread it thickly enough but I have used trial and error as my modus operandi successfully so far, so we shall see. 

The next challenge will be what to do about the rocks for the edge of the path. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

I play with grass clippings

When I was a child, I loved making leaf houses in the fall. Little did I know that my talents in that direction would be useful again decades later. 

Once the mowers had cut the large circle in the field for the labyrinth, I had to decide where to place it inside that area  and then  get it "drawn" on the ground.  Here is the tiny slip of paper which was the road map. If you look carefully you can see where I have put dots indicating where to start the next line. Without the dots, the whole thing began to run together and swim before my eyes, so this one little addition was an invaluable help.

There are many ways to temporarily outline a labyrinth. You can use corn meal, that orange spray paint used to mark hydro and telephone lines, or even a stick drawn through the sand on a beach, just to name a few. I debated what to use, as I wanted to be able to change things easily if I miscalculated. Paint and cornmeal were therefore out. I had asked the mowers to leave the grass clippings in a pile in the centre, and I went from there. 

The first thing was to determine the diameter of the finished labyrinth. I decided on an 18" wide path with about six  inches for the boundary. That was about two feet, multiplied by seven for the circuits, then  multiplied by two to give the diameter: about 28 feet across

The rake was conveniently long, and I used it to measure off the general area on the mown grass. I was not too fussy about absolute accuracy — more about that in a subsequent blog.

Then I had to determine the initial layout or seed pattern: the cross-shape, the four L-shapes and the dots. Here is a sketch I just made. It's large enough to see the shapes. It is very important to get this right, as the whole rest of the design flows from this.

Making this configuration on the ground took a little bit of trial and error before I was happy with it. I am very concrete mathematically speaking. I had to try it out and see how it looked. (Glad I was not in Egypt when they built the pyramids or in medieval Europe with the Gothic cathedrals). 

By coincidence, the rock at the centre of the cross piece looks like a face. I thought this was a bit spooky but kind of cool. It bespeaks ancient wisdom perhaps.

So here is the cross piece: 

Now I have added the L-shapes, in such a way as to allow for an 18" path and, of course, the 6" boundary of grass clippings:

And finally,  the dots:

The distance between the dot and the L should allow for an 18" path. As I've noted, the windrow of grass gives about a 6" boundary:

It occurred to me that I could lose track of this original "seed" template once I got going with all the circuits, since the grass would just blend in, so I decided to use rocks to mark the sixteen points. The rocks are the green blobs  numbered from one to 16 in the drawing below:

We had accumulated a pile of rocks I'd gathered from the lawn periodically last summer before it was seeded. I had  saved them thinking they could be useful someday, and lo and behold they were:

Nice to have a strong person around to do the heavy lifting!

So here are the rocks placed at the ends of the cross-piece and the L's, and on top of the dots:

Here I have joined the first rock to the second and have started to join the 16th to the third. I kept checking my little slip of paper to make sure I was doing it correctly. 

Here I have begun the next circuit, heading from 15, just out of the picture to 4:

Now 15 to 4 is complete; at the right, you can see where I started to go a bit off-track before making the needed correction:

I checked now and again to make sure the path was close to 18" in width. This was a bit too wide. Fortunately, with grass clippings, all I had to do was rake them where I wanted them.

And around it went. Once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed the rhythm.  However, I kept checking to make sure I was joining the circuits properly.

The whole process took several hours, but I enjoyed it! Here is the finished template. Stay tuned: the next step is to make it more permanent.

Below, I have posted a link showing a faster way (15 minutes)  to do the same thing. Mind you, the preparation for the 15 minutes is so complicated it would have driven me crazy trying to get it right.

Also,  it seems overly mechanical: almost too fast and efficient. Joining things "by hand" felt more organic and I just felt good while raking it; it morphed into a sort of odd dance (start, go around, join, go back, then repeat getting wider and wider). The labyrinth came together little by little rather than all at once and as if by too swift magic. I guess I like my magic slow.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Mowing the labyrinth area happens unexpectedly

I am not sure why I decided to make a labyrinth. Mostly I just wondered if I actually could. I would like to think I had a deeper purpose. I probably do, but I am not good at articulating that sort of thing. Concrete practicalities are where I shine.

The first thing I did was to decide where it was to be. Putting it in the lawn would have inconvenienced the lawn mowers to no end, and it would have to be a very spiffy, well-kept version. That required too much maintenance from me as well.

I had no idea lawn mowing was such an exact science. The zen of mowing kicks in too, I've heard.

I tramped around the field for awhile musing. The marker shows where we planted our $10 sugar maple tree. In a few years it will be visible above the grass and in the meantime I didn't want it to be accidentally mowed.

This was taken back in June. Now the tree is no longer visible. Golden rod has replaced the dandelions. 

So  I made a sketch, which shows the two existing paths, which join up further down the slope and end up at the water's edge. I liked the idea of coming upon a labyrinth in the wilderness, as it were.

This shows the view from the back of the cottage and the Friendly Giant's grave aka veggie garden.

Steering well clear of our maple seedling, I placed two markers at what would be the tentative  entrance to the labyrinth area and then four more outlining the circumference to which I tied plastic bags  so they could be seen:

Going down a path to a path seems like fun to me; here is where it will go.

It seemed no sooner had I arranged with our lawn-mowing company to do this work, than the mowers arrived. I was pleasantly surprised. I showed the  foreman my little sketch of the work to be done and brought him up to speed about the meaning and purpose of labyrinths. He looked a bit taken aback, but I figured he simply had not done a lot of labyrinth preparation. He was right into it and suggested using corn to mark the side of the path, as someone had done this effectively in another part of the island. This struck me as a good idea especially as we could later eat the cobs, a strategy that seemed to surprise him for reasons which still puzzle me. In any event, he went ahead and made the initial big circle:

I love those little mowers; they buzz around like hummingbirds.

The labyrinth project gets off to a good start. This is the first circuit.

However, several hours later,  a large truck appeared towing a flat bed trailer on which was a much  larger piece of heavier equipment. I watched as a large burly guy with a shaven head approached the deck where I was standing.   I wondered why the crew had returned. It turned out they hadn't.  It was a different burly bald fellow  Seems the first crew had been there only for the weekly mow.  This explained Burly One's demeanour; I  must admit his sangfroid in the face of what must have been surprising information was impressive.

This job in the field apparently required heavy-duty bush-hogging, hence the new guy and the impressive equipment. I told him his twin had done a very careful job with the smaller mower, which seemed to be still in fine shape upon departure. After a few moments' conversation about other things, which is de rigeur down here,  Burly Two then departed. He seemed slightly disappointed. He told me his next job was to help move some cottager's newly purchased 400-pound statue to a different place on his property.

Of all the crackpot schemes.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Whence the labyrinth: a short history and a decision

Labyrinths were often used by Christian pilgrims who were unable to journey to a holy shrine; they walked a labyrinth instead. (You might see the Camino de Santiago in Spain as a very long, stretched-out labyrinth.) However, this structure predates Christianity and is found in many ancient cultures. The word labyrinth is derived from the word labrys, the sacred, double-sided axe of the Minoans, who worshipped the Mother Goddess and gave us the myth of the Minotaur.

The cathedral at Chartres is supposed to have been built on the site of a shrine sacred to the earth mother. Its 12-circuit labyrinth ( the centre counting as the 12th)  is a rather mysterious addition to the cathedral and is thought to connect to very ancient beliefs in feminine deities. Look carefully, and you can see double-bladed axe-shapes.

Chartres Labyrinth

Chartres is redolent with feminine symbols in addition to the circular labyrinth. The veneration of the Virgin Mary, which arose in the early middle ages when Chartres was built (1250 A.D.), reflected a desire to balance patriarchal Roman Catholicism with the addition of the feminine. This resulted in the assimilation of the Goddess with Mary.  Read more if you like at this link: 

Episcopalian priest Lauren Artress notes that, if the Rose window in Chartres Cathedral, were laid on the floor of the cathedral, it would cover the labyrinth. Or at least come close. According to another authority, Robert Ferre, the centre of the Rose window misses the roseate centre of the labyrinth by five feet but is "exactly 100 of the mason's foot measures from the floor," so there does seem to be some degree of intentionality  (


At this point you may want to read the Rev. Artress’s seminal book on the labyrinth, entitled Walking a Sacred Path. She notes the many approaches to this type of process meditation: allowing the Ego to let go, paying “gracious attention” to what is waiting to well up in you, asking a question, repeating a mantra, reading scripture,  asking for help, honouring a benchmark in life, or working with a dream.

Working with a dream while walking the labyrinth is engaging. I like the idea of having something coming from the unconscious and being walked through on a path on the physical, concrete, material (Mother) earth.  Artress adds that the pattern of the walk can be seen as one of purgation (on going inwards), illumination (during meditation at the centre) and union (going outwards to rejoin the world in a transformed, more compassionate, way). 

I would like to have made a 12-circuit labyrinth because it provides a more convoluted walk in and out of the four quadrants, but it is very complicated mathematically. The little curves around the circumference are not decoration, but are called lunations and correspond to the phases of the moon. Getting them right would be tricky as would the pattern in general. 

I chose a simpler model — the seven-circuit labyrinth. It lacks the surprise and mystery of the 12-circuit, but for an enneagram Five, who really needs to put thought into action, it is a good place to start. As a friend of mine used to say, "Never let the perfect become the enemy of the good."


Saturday, 16 August 2014

I decide to make a labyrinth

Thanks to hearing  Radha Lion’s wonderful presentation at the final intensive of the Haden Spiritual direction program at Mt. Carmel, I learned more about my enneagram type. I am a "Five."  I like being a five because fives spend a lot of time taking things in. We are very observant. As well, we’re excellent listeners because we don’t feel the need to talk a lot. 

However, the downside is that we soak up information and perceptions to such a degree as to be avaricious about it. We are disinclined to produce outflow. We don’t speak enough.  After the intensive,  I read The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Evert, and   I concluded I need to spend way more time expressing myself.

So when I began to think about creating a labyrinth at the cottage, this project quickly became an exercise in actually doing it, not just thinking about it. 

But “why a labyrinth?” you ask. Good question. I love labyrinths. Need I say more? Well, yes, I do apparently.

Walking a labyrinth is a way of “meditating by doing” — good for people like me who have trouble sitting still. 

It is important to note that a labyrinth differs from a maze in that it appeals to the other side of the brain from the linear, problem-solving, ego-dominated side we usually work from.  What is the source of this effect?  Unlike a maze in which there are many false paths and dead ends, there is only one path in and out of a labyrinth. (You can call it unicursal — if you, like me, favour $10 words.)


The result of this difference is that you don’t have to figure out the correct path, as you do with a maze (multicursal). Nor, incidentally, do you care about how fast you do it this time as opposed to the last time. Instead, you slow down; in fact,  the twists and turns tend to slow you down. You are invited to leave the goal-directed analytical part of your brain and go to what is intuitive, imaginative, and receptive. You leave chronos time (measured, clock time) and may enter kairos time (God's time or if you prefer, the eternal present, the now).

For me, setting aside my need to measure, control, analyse or influence events is a lesson I have to learn again and again. I need connect to the immanent side of the divine: the receptive, mysterious feminine if you will.

Simply putting one foot ahead of the other will get me to the centre of a labyrinth and then back out. This knowledge frees me from outer distractions and allows me to be open to my inmost self — and to God within. 

Confident that God (or the Divine or the deep meaning of creation) has placed me on a life path which, although it goes to and fro or even doubles back, nevertheless unaccountably unwinds towards the divine centre of my being — my soul — is a very comforting thought for me. 

The labyrinth acts as a symbol of this journey — or this pilgrimage — inward.  When we walk the labyrinth, we are connected to the source of our own being as well as to the calm centre of the path. Trusting in the meander of the path is one of the main reasons the labyrinth is so powerful a tool for psychic and spiritual wholeness.


Where did the labyrinth originate? Stay tuned! And yes, eventually I will stop talking about it and show actual pictures of the work in progress. I am a Five. I am taking a while to get out of my head ...