Ashland, OR

Text from my journal entry:

The email from Greg Covey was like hundreds that I receive. "I'm a landscape architect, making a proposal in . . . (in this case, Ashland, Oregon). I would like to include a labyrinth." I responded by sending our planning book for architects and some price guidelines. Then I put the email in the thick file of previous architect inquiries. When I heard from Greg again, and then again, soon I began a specific "Ashland" file, which developed into an installation for the public park adjacent to (and owned by) Trinity Episcopal Church, on Second Street. The budget allowed only for a painted labyrinth, rather than utilizing our all-concrete or granite resin technologies. Everything else was done beautifully, so why scrimp on the central feature, the labyrinth?

As usual, the issue was scheduling. The best time was the end of May, but I was giving the keynote talk at a labyrinth dedication in Urbana, IL on May 21 (see urbana) , and presenting at a day-long labyrinth conference the following day. Being creative, I invited my brother David and his partner Kathy to come to St. Louis, at my expense, to visit our mother, who resides in this area. Then, they drove my pickup truck and tool trailer back to Oregon, leaving on May 17. It turns out that big brother had moved to Grants Pass in the spring, which is not far from Ashland.

My assistant Judy Hopen and I flew to Medford Airport on Monday, May 24. We were met and taken to Ashland, where our truck and trailer were waiting, next to the work site, with a parking ticket in the window.. We were housed at a spectacular private residence which was built in the design of a Japanese compound enclosure, with a surrounding wall and several buildings, each of which had a wide exterior wooden walkway covered by an overhanging roof. The home was on the top of a ridge with a spectacular view of the city below. One of the buildings was a guest house. Judy got the bedroom, I got the living room. There was also a car waiting for our use, provided by a church member who no longer drives. So we didn't have to move the truck or trailer.

Ashland, come to find out, is a gorgeous little town. That's no secret, as many well known people live there and retire there. I have been following the activities of James Twyman, but didn't have an occasion to contact him. Folks like Neale Donald Walsch and Jean Houston deserve their privacy. We had the choice of a host of cozy restaurants to choose from, picking one with outdoor tables along a stream that flows into a public park. We also went to the co-op and bought lots of organic things to stock our refrigerator. The clientele looked pretty artsy, like us, except they were driving Mercedes and Range Rovers. The Shakespeare Festival was on. We subsequently discovered that there are four additional theaters as well.

Tuesday morning we began our drawing of the labyrinth. The public location of the park and the great interest among the church and community members brought lots of visitors and observers. Usually I socialize while Judy works. Knowing we were going to be there, folks had driven some distance to see us. Ann Gordon came down from Eugene, and Kay Kinneavy from Newport. Both were involved with hospitals that have labyrinths. After leaving Ashland, I visited each of them to conduct my ongoing survey of hospital labyrinths. Martha Shonkwiler came down from Grants Pass. Anne Bartlett, rector of the church, came out to greet us. We met her husband (who had made our travel arrangements) and other church members, such as Dr. Lang.

That evening I gave a public talk at the church, which was very well attended. The audience ranged from absolute beginners to trained facilitators. David and Kathy came down to hear me. I barely had time to run up the hill and clean up between working and speaking. Judy got all dolled up, as usual, looking like anything but a construction worker or labyrinth installer. She wore net stockings that she had gotten in Paris, which had roses that climbed up the calves. As we were leaving, we talked briefly to our host and a guest, who were sitting out in the courtyard. I mentioned Judy's stockings, so she turned and showed them. "If I had legs like that, I'd wear stockings too," remarked our host about Judy's 34-inch inseam. Although I'm six feet tall, in high heels Judy is taller than I am, albeit 50 pounds lighter.

I take my work as a public speaker very seriously. I prepare and think about it for days ahead of time. Often, when driving, I give my talk to myself, out loud, getting speech ideas. The evening went very well. Judy busied herself with our books and other items for sale at a table in the back. Someone taped my talk. When I get a copy, I will include a transcript. I said things in ways that I had never said before. That helps keep it fresh.

Wednesday was cloudy and threatening. The weather report said scattered thunderstorms. By noon we had finished drawing and began painting. Many people had volunteered, but we chose only one: Marianne Wunch, a church member and stage manager (see photo). Together, the three of us began painting, with an eye on the sky. We were using a durable acrylic resin which we order from a company in California, custom made to match the colors used in the adjacent columbarium. The park is beautifully designed, user friendly, attractive. The acrylic resin will last eight to ten years, whereas an all-concrete labyrinth would last indefinitely. But budgets are budgets.

If we were caught by a rain shower, the acrylic would run and stain the concrete. Not a good thing. It would need at least 15 to 30 minutes to dry enough to be rain proof. An hour would be better. At 3 pm I had a strong premonition to stop, but I decided to push on. By 3:30 the horizon clearly had dark rain clouds, so we stopped and put away our tools. At 4:00, as I was sitting in Starbucks doing my email, the rain started. We were OK. However, it rained all the next day, so Thursday was not a work day. We had a leisurely breakfast at Morning Glory, did email, and generally relaxed. Friday we were to spend the day in Grants Pass, so we drove up Thursday evening and stayed the night at brother David's cute little bungalow on K Street. (Photo: Robert, Marianne, Judy.)

Packing our things in Ashland, our host came out and told us a story. It seems that the man who had been visiting was an old friend who was still depressed from the passing of his wife a few months earlier. She said that after Judy had flashed her stockings a few evenings earlier, the man's spirits raised considerably. In fact, he couldn't stop talking about the stockings (and presumably, Judy's legs). When he left, he was in a much better state of mind. I have suggested that Judy might want to offer "stocking therapy."

Friday had been organized by Martha Shonkwiler, a trained labyrinth facilitator and volunteer chaplain at Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. They have a rather unique outdoor permanent labyrinth. I was there to interview people about how they used it. Martha set up appointments for the whole day, every half hour. It was hugely informative and very helpful for my growing body of information on hospitals. That evening I gave a public talk at the hospital. It didn't seem right for me to be talking to them about healing, which is their profession, so I used the time to share some of my findings about other hospitals, some of their activities and some of their shortcomings.

Saturday morning we drove back to Ashland to continue painting. As we arrived in town, we saw that the streets were wet. So was the labyrinth. It had just rained. So, we waited several hours for it to dry out. We were then able to get in a whole work day. We drove back to my brother's for the night. On Sunday we completed the painting, much to the delight of all of the church people. We put up caution tape and signs asking people to stay off for a few days. Later someone wrote us that the labyrinth "passed the test of a skateboarder," the nemesis of public places.

After returning to St. Louis, we received this photo of the completed labyrinth in use. We greatly appreciate it when people send us photos. Ashland, I sure hope we can come back again. (Of course, we felt the same way about Santa Barbara, about New Vernon, about Chagrin Falls, etc. etc.)

Post script: A few months later we received a phone call. "How do we remove painted graffiti from the labyrinth?" Alas, the labyrinth itself was painted, so the material that removed graffiti also would remove the pattern. Apparently that was done, and the labyrinth repainted. Now, some seven years later, the signs of wear are indicating that it is time to repaint the labyrinth.