Whitewater Mesa Labyrinths’ Journey into Being
My first labyrinth was inspired by a piece of ribbon depicting eleven designs of labyrinths. At the time I still worked at Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York but had purchased what is now our home at the west entrance to the Gila Wilderness in southwest New Mexico. I looked at the ribbons and thought what a perfect design for a garden in New Mexico, a labyrinth needs no water and it is beautiful. I had only walked a labyrinth once before and viewed it as a thing of beauty that I wanted to look at more than walk in. I knew nothing else about them.
In 2002 I started this journey. I cut my favourite design Syzygy out of the ribbon and pinned it to my gardening glove. I walked around our land until the ground told me where to put this labyrinth thing. Then I collected rocks and raked a sixty foot circle of errant rocks that would not show up on the clay earth. The one thing I knew about labyrinths was that they had to be oriented on something. So I oriented my first labyrinth on the sound of the Whitewater Creek coming through the Catwalk Canyon at dawn which is the only time I can hear it before the birds start their morning song. Syzygy is a quadrant labyrinth designed by my brother, Ben Nicholson. It is made of rocks too big to hold in one hand but not so big you hurt your back when you pick them up.
I use Syzygy labyrinth to train my horse to pick his feet up over rocks and to turn sharp corners and to generally pay attention to me and the terrain. I ride the mountain trails in the Gila Wilderness so it is essential that we practice the maneuver of a 180 degree turn in case a steep trail is washed away and we cannot continue forwards.
By now I had started learning about labyrinths and realized their power. I wanted to know how it felt to walk a classic labyrinth. So I laid one out of rocks that fit in one hand. I found that there are many similarities in walking a labyrinth to practicing yoga which I also teach. The journey in, the center or asana, the journey out. I use this labyrinth to lead Maypole dances, and to participate in World Healing Day, World Labyrinth Day and Standing Women with group walks.
I have also laid an interlocking spiral labyrinth starting with two big stones at the center. I just knelt down between the two big stones and laid stones around myself in two spirals and have never really stopped. Hence its name Two Stones Kneeling. The ground that it is laid upon gently undulates and the stones are the same clay colour as the earth with a collection of heart-shaped rocks on top of them.
The most common question from visitors is “What is the difference between a labyrinth and a maze?” It is hard to explain the feeling of being lost and challenged by the maze and safe enough to let everything go in a labyrinth. So I laid a maze in plan using rounded white river-washed rocks which are obscured in long grasses. I oriented the maze on the sun setting at the Equinox. To determine this I stood at the future east entrance of the maze and lined up my husband, Mike, with the sun on what was to be the west side of the maze and as the sun set he put a big rock at his feet. The southwest and northwest corners are lined up with the Solstices. In between is a birthday calendar. People bring a beautiful rock on their birthday, I line the birthday person up with the setting sun and they put their birthday rock at their feet.
In 2006 I made the Shuffle Labyrinth for creating ephemeral labyrinths. I dug, weeded, sifted and raked the clay until it was a friable forty foot diameter tabla rasa. The smoothness of the surface in between shufflings is maintained using a baseball mound rake. I have labyrinth designs in my head so I lead a line of people behind me as we shuffle our feet in the raked earth. The last person in leads people out along the labyrinth pathway their feet have just made. You can also create shuffle labyrinths on the beach and let the tide erase them.
In 2011, I added another equine labyrinth - the original of which Jeff Saward designed for The Troy Ride at the Labyrinth Society’s gathering in New Harmony in 2010. It is pictured just above. Although the existing ones require a lot of maintenance and it would be heartbreaking, let alone disrespectful to the labyrinths, to let one get overgrown, I cannot resist just one more. Even though I now view labyrinths very differently than at the beginning of this journey, they are still very beautiful to look at.