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Sarah Cunningham's picture

oh, oh, I arrived and first greeted the beech tree, feeling I might end up spending more time with the tree than with the labyrinth itself. The ground under the tree covered with empty beechnut shells. Could we eat beech nuts? What do they have to do with chewing gum? Something, I'm pretty sure. Beech tree creating its own space within, doorways here and there where you don't even have to duck your head to walk in, then you are enclosed by rustling leaves. The tree's bark skin so wrinkly and wrinkles forming circles where a branch once grew, so so like breasts. So enormous. So full and heavy, resting on its roots, resting down through its roots. Bruce said today at Harriton House, that many of the trees that starting growing when this area ceased to be farmland, 80 to 100 years ago, have now begun to reach the end of their lives. How can this be true, when these beech trees are clearly much much older than that? I suppose different species have different life spans - ash live shorter? - but still sometimes it seems as if humans, even supposedly environmentaly minded ones, have some kind of death wish towards trees, they just have to find an excuse to cut them down when they reach a certain size. One worthwhile thing colleges do, around here anyway, is preserve magnificent old trees. Bigger ones than are allowed to remain anywhere else. (I'm withholding judgment on the worth-whileness of the academic endeavor!)

When I come out of the beech space, to the labyrinth itself, the first thing that strikes me (apart from the weather: cool and warm and perfect and cloudless, impossibly dark blue and just what a fall day is supposed to be, still and breezy, many opposites rolled into one) is that the labyrinth has been weeded since my last visit. That rainy Sunday when I walked so-o-o slowly and made friends with the individual clover and grass and dandelion plants was only a few days ago. Now the paths are evenly brown and neat, and the grass has been mown as well. I had wondered how the mowing machines and men would cope with mowing between these paths, the two or three inch drop from turf to brown earth between, and now I see how the ends, where each circuit makes a more or less sharp turn to head back in the opposite direction, these ends of the grassy in-between verges, have all been damaged, the grass almost worn away, and I think this must be from the mowing machines having to turn around. So I was right that mowing must be a bit of a problem.

I think of walking the labyrinth barefoot, as I saw someone else doing before, and immediately take off my shoes. I'm pleased at how unhesitatingly I make this decision: think of it, do it! Seems to me I used to think about things a lot longer and maybe not do them at all, I like this think it, do it, ability. My art teacher last year used to say, well if you're thinking of it, maybe you should just do it! I like this improvisatory approach, and now dream of the thinking and the doing getting even closer, getting simultaneous. The grass is warm and soft, the earth of the path is warm and soft, it's not a cold day at all. (On the other hand, I thought of climbing the beech tree and did not do it. Wrong shoes. Sore shoulder, not quite strong enough. Too heavy. Too old? I hope not. Imagined doing it. Hoped to do it another time. Did not do it.)

But, soon after stepping into the labyrinth in my bare feet, starting to walk slowly slowly, a few seconds on each step, I get interested in the grassy parts between the paths. The negative space, so to speak. The in between. The not-paths. One way of getting into an altered state of consciousness, is to focus on the spaces between things, instead of on the things themselves. Don Juan tells Carlos Castaneda to do this by looking at the shadows between the leaves, not the leaves themselves. Again, I think it, then do it, stepping onto the grass and following it around. Not so slowly though. I like the feeling of being in the in-between. These grassy not-paths have dead ends, more like a real maze, but I can step over onto the next one and keep going. In, then out. Longer than I expect with no dead end. But just as I think I will come out of the maze into free grass, I see that it is really the next one over that ends free, the one I'm on does have a dead end. So I step over both, free myself from the maze, and head for the hammock.I can free myself from the maze at any time! My fourth time here, and I have not yet tried the hammock, nor indeed any of the hammocks on campus. Such a good idea, hammocks, another mind-altering device, letting the body hang free of direct contact with the ground. The movement of a hammock has a special gentle freedom, I had one in my Irish house but gave it away when I moved. Also, so many of my books I gave away! It seemed like such a good idea at the time, the only thing to do really, but now how am I to give proper citations for my favorite quotes? There's a reason to accumulate books after all... The ones you may lose interest in for a while, may suddenly be the ones you absolutely need, a few years later.... I regret my hammock as well.

Now I am finally drifting, free. Dangling. My eyes rest on a tall tree a hundred yards away, that has turned almost completely red in a huge swathe from its top to the bottom of its leaves. So restful to gently swing in my hammock, watching the tree gently moving in the same breeze. Contemplating. Want to look up that word. Is it con- = with, + template as in pattern? So as we contemplate something we are actually patterning with it, taking on its form as a template, in a way becoming it? I love this theory, and plan to look it up when I get home. Will now look it up. 



Srucara's picture

Hi Sarah

I am so fasinated by your explorations with the labyrinth. I am in the EcoLit (nonesem) course and I am going to be coming to the labyrinth from now on for my site sits and exploring this part of Bryn Mawr deeper. I am currently reading Carlos Castaneda's Art of Dreaming and have actually come across the significance of the "in between" in Toltec wisdom as well (Don Miguel Ruiz - Four Agreements). I wonder if its no coincidence that McBrides are given a purple lantern to represent the human spirit? I am enthralled to find your words on the energy of the owl and Athena and Jeanne-Rachel's labyrinth creation.  

Sarah Cunningham's picture

Welcome to the labyrinth!

I'm actually torn between continuing at the labyrinth, as we move deeper into fall, or switching to Morris woods and the graveyard, the wildness calling me. ??? If only, maybe both...

John Mark Rozendaal's picture

length, holding on to things

It is not too long for me to enjoy reading it. Your self is certainly present, every writer's best subject, but it doesn't strike me as 'indulgent'. Modest, actually.

Thinking of the hammock and the books, I am imagining that letting them go might have been freeing in some degree at the time. I hope that it was so, and that you still have a bit of that freedom with you. (Books can become an incredible burden, I know people who have carried them much too long.)

Sarah Cunningham's picture


too long? is it allowed to be so self-indulgent in a blog?

Anne Dalke's picture

i'd say

this is the space to be as long or short as you'd like, while we're working on more focused, trimmed down pieces in your more formal papers...