Field Notes from the Red Oak Labyrinth

Deep gratitude to all those many many folks who visited Beyond the Edge:Artists Gardens this summer in Ottawa. A special thanks to those who left ” Oak Inspired Thoughts” in the notebooks. They inspired me and confirmed for me in more ways than I could have imagined, the mysterious ways of the labyrinth.

Note bookIMG_1606


All decked out for summer in a cloak of greenery.
All decked out for summer in a cloak of greenery.




View from the centre on a sunny morning.
View from the centre on a sunny morning.




Circles within circles, all welcoming.
Circles within circles, all welcoming.


Patterns left in the inner bark from the Emeral Ash Borer. Beautiful but devastating at the same time.
Patterns left in the inner bark from the Emeral Ash Borer. Beautiful but devastating at the same time.




Misty morning in late summer.
Misty morning in late summer.




Essentics in the Labyrinth. Thanks Amanda!
Essentics in the Labyrinth. Thanks Amanda!
























Red Oak
Red Oak
















Arial View of the Red Oak Labyinth. Thanks to Dinesh Amamdavel and his drone photography.
Aerial View of the Red Oak Labyinth. Thanks to Dinesh Amamdavel and his drone photography.














We would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council,

an Agency of the Government of Ontario

2014 OAC Logo Colour JPG


Summer Solstice Labyrinth

I don’t know of an actual connection between the labyrinth and the solstice, but in my event planning with colleagues it often comes up as a question. During the construction of the Red Oak Labyrinth I realized the Summer Solstice would occur just before the opening of the project. The labyrinth beneath a grand old oak was ready and it seemed an opportunity not to be missed. So we connected the dots and it felt natural to create a ceremony offering blessings to the tree and to the very earth that supports and sustains us all, as we welcomed summer.

Among my colleagues is a group of very fine music therapists. They formed the core and provided musical leadership for a group of women singers. Together, 12 women all dressed in white circled round the labyrinth before splitting into groups at the cardinal points of the labyrinth. Using the medieval song “Summer Is Icumen In” (medieval English of the mid- 13th century) which translates to “Summer Has Come In” as a base for their musical offering, they improvised and toned around the melody.

Singers dressed in white  processing around the labyirnth.
Singers dressed in white processing around the labyirnth.

People came with small bouquets of flowers to offer and placed them along the central ring of the labyrinth. I would not want to say just what was going on for the folks who came but a few photos, given with permission sum up the profound feeling of the evening.

Flower offering.
An offering of flowers.
Green Lady
Green Lady

There was also a visit by the “Green Lady” who may not be much talked about in the pages of history books but who was very much alive in our presence that evening. She danced her way around the great circle of the labyrinth, playing out the story of the cycle of life; from seed, to sprout, to fruit, and then death and decay only to rise again the following season. I have a particular fondness for the story of the Green Man and look for representations of him on my travels and indeed it inspires my work as a Horticultural Therapist.

May wine was enjoyed as the sun set on a perfect evening.
May wine was enjoyed as the sun set on a perfect evening.

The evening of the first day of summer was perfect, as is hinted at in the photos. As the sun set we raised a glass of  “May Wine” an ancient German recipe that blends Riesling scented with Sweet Woodruff from my garden to welcome in the summer. What a perfectly sweet evening, one that I will long remember. Thank you to my musical friends and the Green Lady and all those who came to grace this place and recognize its specialness.

A meditation in the moment.
Meditation in the moment.


We would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council,

an Agency of the Government of Ontario

2014 OAC Logo Colour JPG

8th Annual Candlelight Labyrinth

Setting up the candlelight labyrinth is not novel to me, but there is always some new and this year was no exception. This was the eighth annual McKellar Park Labyrinth. As I looked at the kids who were helping me I noted that some were the younger siblings of my usual helpers. The first few years I hosted the labyrinth I found I was explaining it to many visitors but now, eight years on, there is a certain knowledge and comfort level in the community. One older woman came out to help because she had received an email from a friend and just wanted to see what it was all about.

The Neighbourhood Gang of helpers.

This year I had intended to participate in Ottawa’s first Nuit Blanche on September 22nd but the weather forecast for that day was for certain rain and thunderstorms. So we cancelled and we were so incredibly disappointed, especially when the evening turned out to be perfect after all! Since we were all geared up to put on a labyrinth we decided to go ahead with our usual location in McKellar Park the following week.

One never knows who will show up to help set things up but they always do. The core of my team are my kids, my nieces and nephews and their friends. We had a sunny warm afternoon to work and it was fun to catch up and connect while we filled 700 paper bags with sand and tea lights. As we waited for the sun to go down, we enjoyed an impromptu picnic in the park. I sat, taking in the scene, and wondered why we don’t picnic in our own park more often.

My daughter lends a hand with the paper bags.

For the Nuit Blanche project I had collaborated with composer and musician, Bruce Nicol. We have worked together on labyrinth projects for several years and Bruce had acted as curator for our Labyrinth as Sanctuary Series at the Cathedral. He had an idea to create a soundscape based on our previous recording of music at our labyrinth events and he acquired some new software to allow him to collage and interweave sounds. He was able to create a spontaneous mix from his collection of pre-recorded soundtracks. One of our guiding principals for labyrinth music is that it be responsive and sensitive to the mood of the participants. Bruce was on site and mixed a customized surround-sound.

Bruce Nicol at the controls

My friend and vocalist Antonia Pigot dropped by with to add another layer to the sound collage. At some points she found herself singing along with a recording of herself. I suppose singers do that all the time but she was a bit surprised.

Vocalist Antonia Pigot

I doubt if any of us would have spent the evening outside, had we not been at the labyrinth. It was a mild night with a few clouds making for a dramatic backdrop.The labyrinth was set up on a baseball diamond and as the full moon rose later in the evening it lined up and bisected our set up. Bruce and his electronic sounds were at home base, the center of the labyrinth was on the pitcher’s mound, and the entrance to the labyrinth with glowing electric blue lights and the full moon were all in a line.

All lined up.

In spite of no publicity or advertising the word got out and people came. It was a pleasure to greet old friends and to have shadowy conversations in the dark.

Full Moon at the Labyrinth

The Making of a Canvas Labyrinth

The Making of a Canvas Labyrinth

Like a giant floor cloth our latest adventure in the world of the labyrinth has been to create a portable canvas labyrinth. We sourced the canvas at Gwartzman’s in Toronto, the traditional supplier of artist canvas, and we had it sewn together and hemmed by a tent maker in Ottawa. Then, working in the church basement on top of one of Vanessa’s permanent labyrinths, we started to paint. Laying down thin washes of blues, turquoise and purples we managed to transform the blank canvas into the largest watercolour painting I’m sure I’ll ever make.

The next morning we arrived to find that it had dried very nicely, and in surprising and delightful ways. The next step was to create the pattern. Using a string and a pencil we drew a seven circuit classical labyrinth, but not before making an initial error in measurement that had us do most of the drawing twice. Yikes, that was a lot of extra work and hard on the body!

The last step was to call upon a few generous friends with steady hands to come help paint in the lines. But not before we changed our minds on the colour of the lines. Funny how all the planning we did prepared us for a 180-degree turn, and we choose a dark purple for the lines that we had rejected in earlier trials. It was an interesting experience to say the very least, and that is how the creative process usually plays out, just not exactly as you plan it.

Painting the lines was a kind of contemplative or meditative activity that required some degree of quietness in order to have a steady hand and not make a mistake. It fascinated me that there was little talking as several people worked away for about 6 hours.

The next morning we completed the very last step, which was to fold the canvas and squish it into a carrying bag. Our new labyirnth is in need of a name. Do you have a suggestion?

Now we are mobile and ready to go where we are called. I am making presentations at a couple of conferences this spring where I will be offering to bring the labyrinth along for participants to try. Please get in touch, if you would like to have us visit and offer the labyrinth experience for your group.