The Labyrinth at High Valley

We built the labyrinth at High Valley from a pencil sketch someone had made from a Cretan design. 'We' meant an informal group of us who had decided we'd try to build it with locally available materials and in a place that was close enough that people wouldn't have to hike far to get to it.

We chose an open space that had been kept in lawn for not very clear reasons, but was shaded at some times during the day (most places at High Valley are shaded by all the trees that surround us; we are in the Great Eastern Woodlands, after all). The place we chose had been memorialized in a school film decades before; it was where the Indians on horseback attacked the settlers, I think.

It is below (south of) the lake's dam, and is bordered on one side by the out-flowing stream, on another by the dam, on a third by apple and chestnut trees and on the fourth by a ruined stone wall and the trees, bushes and poison ivy that grow on most fencerows around here. In the winter, spring and fall, the sound of flowing water is ever-present. Given our near rainforest climate, the thirst of all the abundant vegetation stops the flow for most of the summer, but in summer you are surrounded by birdsong all day.

As you can see from the picture, the

itself is fairly large. We built it with fieldstones, most of which I gathered from stone piles on the property, from a falling down stonewall and from the ruined stonewall to the labyrinth's south. The paths are outlined by the stones; the paths were originally outlined in cords we pinned to the ground, in order to be sure that we followed the prescribed pattern. Almost everyone involved in building the labyrinth also brought a favorite stone of their own, and placed it somewhere along one of the paths. We considered building walls to delineate each path, but that would have been much more complicated--we'd still be building it many years later--and we decided it was unnecessary. Some churches have patterns painted on a canvas, after all, and people can follow that.

The Minoan, or Cretan pattern is considered the oldest and also the simplest design. If you trace it you will see that it seems to resemble a coiled intestine. In any case, it is not a maze; you can't get lost in it; you have to follow it one way in, and then retrace your steps going out.

On the other hand, my own personal experience is that at some point, every time I walk it, it feels as if I must be going wrong, because the path takes you close to the center and then away, almost to the outside path, before you finally end up at the center. Perhaps the design was intended to challenge our assumptions of linear direction and purpose.

Some people say you should pose a question to yourself before you enter, that you will find the answer when you reach the center, or perhaps by the time you return to the entrance. For me, the labyrinth walk that is most meaningful is simply to let it lead me; I let myself forget about purpose, direction, meaning, so that walking it becomes "time off." You never know what comes from that.

Soon after it was built, at least in outline (people kept on contributing stones for several years), David Budd felt moved to become the Keeper of the Labyrinth. For many years he lavished care on it, kept it mowed, planted little flower gardens near it, and placed several of his chainsaw sculptures at various places nearby. He also let some of the wild flowers grow in different niches along the paths. Since David "retired," Douglas and Elizabeth have done their best to maintain it.

For several years we had formal Labyrinth Walks scheduled every month, but attendance was sporadic, and it seemed much more meaningful for people to come and walk it whenever they wanted. That's how it remains to this day. It is open to everyone and anyone from the time the snow melts in spring, and the mud recedes a bit, until it is again covered in snow.

Above is the labyrinth in late winter or early spring, when in it is again open for walking.