The first day, we go, three strangers with me, up a hill, down a hill, up another slope and there it is, the young red maple aflame in the middle of a circle of stones. We find the entrance. I follow Erin, trusting her feet when I do not trust my own. On the way back out, I fumble—a stone has been moved; the path isn’t clear. She smiles, points the right direction. And, just as I am sure I have made a mistake, I emerge.
We are silent walking, our sneakers on cedar chips—red chips lining the outside circle, grey and black ones within the paths winding, guiding, circling. Today, alone, I stoop to see if the black ones are burned, testing the black against another rock gingerly to see if it can be used like a stick of charcoal, but it does not have that property. Who built this labyrinth? A grieving family, an artist? This property is full of bird-houses painted in bright colors, a destination for a mother bird’s child, seeking a home. The families making birdhouses have all lost children—their grief so palpable it feels like metal in my mouth. Would we have come to such a place had it existed when Roddy died? No. This is a different time, a different part of the country. We know more now about how to process. How to trust the labyrinth to carry us forward deep into ourselves, how to spool us back out from the center, like an Elizabethan circle dance winding into a snail whorl, then releasing.
Yesterday, Erin and I go again, silent once we are inside, lost in thought, surrendering. After, we both whisper Namaste and walk home a winding way, around the pond and over Sophia’s bridge, painted rocks winking like Easter Eggs, placed lovingly in roots and nestled into stumps. We heard last night what one grieving mother needed to do, an instruction manual of sorts for how to do grief. Here, I think of my own mother and her mother—how was it they managed to move forward, inch forward. I think of Lori and Don mourning Jess.
Today, I venture out by myself, quiet from all the stories I have heard. Arriving, I see Kate and Erin walking. It is warmer this morning. I think of the Stage Manager in Our Town, explaining at the top of Act III in the Grover’s Corners Cemetery that “an awful lot of sorrow has quieted down up here,” and I hope that that is true for those who come to Faith’s Lodge, not on a writing retreat—or on a writing retreat, that our collective sorrows can quiet down. I tilt my face to the sun, pause until the two who are walking have passed where I will enter, not wanting to interrupt their pace, but then, unexpectedly, I turn in on myself a few seconds later and there is Erin, coming in the opposite direction. She throws her arms wide and we hug, this stranger-friend I acquired Thursday. Kate and I hug next; then they leave, their voices soft, murmuring with the breeze. Reaching the center of the labyrinth, I close my eyes. Shimmer. Circles. Red. I feel as if I am teaseracting in A Wrinkle in Time. Pulsing red. Anger? Grief? I breathe. “Set down, set down”. Richard III’s Lady Anne’s words thrum in my ear. Fragments of text float up to me. “What would you do if you were not afraid?” “Nature’s first green is gold.” Mantras swirl in this place of meditation. Lady Anne again: “Set down, set down.” Set down anger, grief, sorrow, burdens, helplessness? Set down feeling silenced, helpless, caught. Set down as in record, write. Set down as in I don't need to carry such burdens, so much weight any longer. I wind, burrow, coil, curl into myself in the labyrinth, in the lodge, witnessing others' stories, griefs, losses. Listening. I listen right now. One tapping bird. A chirp behind me. Breezes rustle leaves; I listen more. There are several layers of wind, several types of rustle: grass, small trees, larger noises of wind in branches. What is louder than a rustle? Sun, so warm. I watched you rise over the steam a few hours ago, a golden band pushing up over the lake, pushing back the darkness. That's where grief lives, underground, I think. A caldera, rising when it finds an aperture, reaching up. Cheep, cheep. One bird. Another answers. Rush. Whoosh. The flutter of wings. How unlikely to be writing on my phone when a river of words has flowed from my pen during this retreat. Re. Treat. A treat offered more than once. Accept what you are offered, a birthday treat. Trick or treat. Retreat from the field. Retreat into anger, loneliness. Retreat into silence. Words loud in my head. Breathe. In. Out. Set down. Set down. Spiral out. Trust. Accept the gift, the peace, the possibility that this moment can inspire me next week, next month, next year.