"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, March 16, 2014


The Oxford dictionary defines labyrinth as, "a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one's way." In the labyrinths constructed for meditation, there is always one way out if the walker will only stay to the path in front of her. My life this winter has felt more maze-like than labyrinthine—all complicated paths running into dead-ends with the way out cleverly hidden and always just out of reach. 

Yesterday we found ourselves, Walt and I, on a hike named The Labyrinth. The name didn't register until we were there because the hike starts with an ascent up a steep ridge called Coyote Wall. In reading about the place, I hadn't noticed what the loop veering off from the wall was called. Sometime mid-hike, however, I began to realize what a gift we'd been given in this place named for its winding, wandering path.

Directions for this hike were simple even though there were paths going in every possible direction: go up and to the left until you come to the fence and then go right and stay on the main path. Not quite in summer hiking shape, we took the ascent very slowly. There was lots of resting, which meant lots of time to look around. The Labyrinth loop involved some seriously steep descending, which meant we had to go slowly, which meant lots of time to look around.

Under a sunny sky, accompanied by capricious breezes, we saw the season's first wildflowers. Delicate desert parsley in lemony bloom grew through the rocks at the beginning of the path. Some sections of open meadow were purple with grass widow, and others were polka-dotted with grass widow and yellow bells. One rare magenta desert parsley plant blushed from under gray underbrush not yet revived from its winter death. Gold stars glowed demurely from the trail's edge. 

Western meadowlarks burbled and called from the tops of solitary wind-shaped pines. It's a sound from early childhood that, like the call of killdeers and the chortle of barn swallows, lifts me to the sky.

Ravens soared in tandem overhead, their whiskey-voiced croaks floating to us on random wind gusts. We watched one, all glossy big-beaked glory, eating something on a rock. Once finished, he flew to the top of a rocky bluff. As he watched us wind our way toward home, I felt his intense gaze as benediction.

Outcroppings of columnar basalt, so symmetrical it seems impossible they aren't carved by man's hand, surprised us from time to time around bends in the trail . The product of ancient volcanic eruptions, the columns stand against wind and temperature and time. Like beings in shoulder to shoulder formation, made powerful in their unity, they offer proof of eternity. 

Water in rivulets and seepings and one laughing tumbling plunging creek kept us company the whole day. It cooled the air, sang for our picnic, supported the beating of our hearts. The milky green of the stream turned the rocks of its bed into one long string of strange pearls adorning the hillside. 

Once in the Labyrinth there was never any doubt which trail we were to follow despite the number of times it turned back on itself. Fainter trails took off in random directions. Some were declared closed, and others were mysterious and tempting in a road-less-traveled way. We even talked about the possibility of bushwacking our way across country, but our energy and the time kept us on our intended path. 

Four hours later, footsore and sweaty, blood singing, heart overflowing, we made our way back to the car. Our way found. 

The metaphor is cliche. But the message was one I needed the way a lost child needs a mother's reassuring hug: A chosen destination, followed step by step will get a person where they need to be. It doesn't really matter what the choice is. What matters is the one foot in front of the other movement forward on a committed and intentional path. Even in a seemingly desolate place still officially in winter, beauty exists in bounty beyond comprehension. Rushing to the end means the possibility of injury (those trails were steep and rocky!), and the probability of missing most of the miracles along the way. 

This particular winter ended for me yesterday in The Labyrinth. Hope outshines despair again. A spark has been re-ignited. I move forward with a lighter step and my eyes focused more on my immediate surroundings. I left some part of me behind in the dark coldness of this last season. Something frozen and fallen away. While I'm not quite sure yet who is left, I look forward to getting to know her as we set out on new trails. 


Linda Myers said...

Such fine writing, Deb. And what a hike!

Linda Reeder said...

Now I feel like I need to go on a hike!
What a wonderful sense of renewal, so evident in your reverent description of all the beautiful little details.
My hike will have to wait a bit yet. Recovery takes time. I will try to be patient.

DJan said...

Oh, you know how much I loved this description, Deb. I also know how important it is to slow down on the descent. Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog, it made me smile and your face just blossomed in front of me, in my mind's eye. What a blessing our blogs are! Your fine writing took me in many directions before depositing me here, at the comment window. :-)

Retired English Teacher said...

I wish I could talk to you about this. Today, I wishing I could find my way out of the winter deadness I have been feeling. The chosen destination has escaped me. Thank goodness you found a part of you gone, and the walk gave you a newness for life. I think I am getting there. I can't be sure yet. Hugs.

lily cedar said...

Your hike sounds lovely Deb.

Richard Hughes said...

Walking labyrinths can be a sacred meditative walking. You seem to have found that experience.

Barb said...

Your words formed images in my mind, Deb. The steepness, the rock faces, the wildflowers, the creek, all meant to be savored. I like the idea of leaving a winter self behind and opening to new possibilities. Your labyrinthian hike took you to the beginning again - starting afresh. Your school year is winding down - soon you'll be preparing for the Canyon. I may be going there end of April to hike.

BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Beautiful. Because of your talent for description I was able to go along on that walk. Which is good, because today around here anything that isn't snow is ice.

kario said...

Beautiful! I seek out labyrinths wherever I can and Lola will patiently set forth with me while Eve thinks we are nuts. She would rather rush to the end. All of this puts me in mind of Umberto Eco's book "The Name of the Rose" where he says that the way out of a maze is to keep one hand on the left wall at all times and eventually you will find your way out. I am glad that Walt was your touchstone and companion and that you two enjoyed that lovely afternoon together.

Deb Cushman said...

Thank you for this, Deb. I've felt pulled in so many directions (roads less traveled and those too traveled as well) this cold winter, so you writing had a special meaning for me. I'm happy you've found some renewal in your passage through your labyrinth path.

Deborah Barker said...

Welcome to Spring Deb :-) MY day today has been one of constantly taking the wrong path only to have to pull back and start again. So I enjoyed your post, for many reasons.

Dee said...

Dear Deb, I am happy for you. There is, in this posting, such a sense of well being and a splendor gratitude for where you are right now in your life. Wonder and gratitude and manifestation. Peace.