Friday, December 29, 2006

The Winter Labyrinth

Entry for 28 December 2006 (California):

The last of the rain passed through yesterday afternoon, followed by a front of clear, cold air. At 3am we woke up and looked out the windows to see the stars sparkling brightly between the tree branches. Through the south window I could see Orion’s belt blazing just above the mountain ridge.

In the morning, there was frost all around, melting quickly where the bright morning sun shines, but lingering still in the shadows. The air was cool, crisp, and clear.

No visit to Murray Creek is complete without walking the Labyrinth. However, the last couple of times my mom has approached the labyrinth, she reported a sense that its energy has been blocked in some way. For this reason, we thought it would be a good idea to let her guide us into it today. Furthermore, the small foot bridge across the creek usually suffers some damage in the winter, and this year the guide rope has been washed away, leaving two somewhat wobbly boards. My mom and sister Anna decided to drive around the back way, through the neighbors’ property, while the rest of us dared the bridge, which was still a bit icy at one end.

The Murray Creek labyrinth sits in a meadow on the south side of the creek, at the foot of a steeply-rising ridge, its central axes oriented to the cardinal directions. At this time of year, right after the Winter Solstice, the ridge casts its shadow over the southern half of the labyrinth, even at midday, leaving it in perpetual shade. The fallen oak leaves around and within this half of the labyrinth were rimed with delicate frost patterns. My mom and Anna drive up and get out of the car. My mom stands at opening to the Labyrinth, looking east, and tells us it is OK to go ahead; she and I follow after the others.

Although it is always centering and peaceful, the Labyrinth changes with the seasons and the time of day: The Summer Labyrinth smells of dry grass in the hot sun of summer days; the ground is hard, and at night there are crickets and wheeling bats. The rocks of the Winter Labyrinth stand out more vividly and the ground is damp and soft and green. Most strikingly today, the Winter Labyrinth has a seasonal duality: Its north half is brightly lit by the sun, with dew sparkling in the grass, as if anticipating spring and summer; while its south half is in perpetual shadow, still frost-covered and locked in winter. It’s as if this incarnation of the Labyrinth contains within it the turning seasons, light and dark, summer and winter.

As we slowly walk into the Labyrinth, we flicker in and out of the light, crossing and recrossing between the dualities, pilgrims walking through the cycle of seasons and years. As usual, there is a sense of separating from ordinary, daily life and aligning ourselves to the larger frames of the natural world of seasons, sun, month, growing things and of the world of meanings, what it is important, why we are here, and so on. Anna’s husband Jim, a natural philosopher, wonders what would happen is politicians had to walk the labyrinth before deciding important matters, like going to war.

Reaching the center, my mom quietly turns to face north, east, south and west. The rest of us touch the Mother and Father stones and do whatever our personal labyrinth rituals are. Around this, we talk and occasionally joke in a quiet manner; we take the Labyrinth seriously but not necessarily solemnly. Jim remembers the last ritual here, 6 months ago, on the summer solstice: “Wasn’t that a real party, a real celebration of life?,” he says, referring to the ceremony in which my dad’s ashes were scattered. Half a year has turned since then, and that means that it has been three-quarters of a year since my dad died, on the last vernal equinox. I had to miss last summer’s ash-scattering, but I think of the small shrine I’ve made in my study in Toledo, with its small vial of my dad’s ashes. It has been three seasons since my dad died; we still have another season to traverse before we reach the first anniversary. I recognize in the many small silences that have fallen among us over the past days that we are still grieving and still learning how to deal with the large Silence left by my dad’s passing. One of the many gifts of the Labyrinth, is the freedom it gives to walk together our separate paths, in and out, through light and dark, without needing to say anything.

Standing in the center, we take photographs of different combinations of us (this, too, is one of labyrinth rituals), then we walk out of the Labyrinth, and outward into our separate lives. As we go, we carry within us the sense of stillness, shining like the bright winter stars, until we meet again to walk the Labyrinth together, in another of its many incarnations.

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