The GLRP, 11/22/16

Have a look at this:

This was a thing we picked up in Virginia when cleaning out the family homestead.  Besides the loop on the right, the end on the left is flattened.  We have no idea what it is/was; if I had to guess, I’d say it was a spring kind of thing from some large machine, perhaps a train.  Comments are welcome.

Whatever its original use, I decided it would be a lovely thing from which to hang a light, and so today’s task in the Great Labyrinth Reclamation Project was installing it over the new nook in the southwest corner.

Simple project, actually: 1) saw off some copper tubing I had around; 2) screw it to one of the uprights on the fence with brackets.

3) Stick the flat end in the pipe.

Now it can swing out to any position you need.

Serving suggestion.  Clearly I want to find something cooler and larger.  For the time being I can use one of my solar lights.

Technically-speaking-wise, I don’t suppose I needed the copper tubing.  I could have just used brackets small enough to contain the iron thing.  But I like the effect, and the tubing keeps the end of the iron thing from digging into the fence itself.

The GLRP, 11/11/16

This was a pleasant surprise.  I had decided, you may recall, to claw out a place from the very back corner in the southwest.  It was previously just a jungle of ivy and whatever volunteer plants sprang up.  I had planted a variety of ferns there over the years, but the ivy choked out everything not at the edge of the planting.

So when the fence builders ripped out all the ivy, I decided not to let it grow back.1  My plan was to pave over it with the same flagstone I used in the fire pit area and to create a little nook of some kind.


All in all, a pretty spectacular little spot.

The stand is a bird cage stand.  We think we will find some kind of hanging lantern that can go on it.  (Since taking that photo, I’ve moved it to the other side of the block wall in order to clear more space in the nook.)

And look at that planter I found when I went to buy the flagstone at Mulch & More!

I think I’m not planting anything in it.  It’s just delightful/provocative enough by itself.


1 Yes, I know it will grow back.  I am prepared to do battle.

The GLRP, 11/9/16

More terracing, this time at the westpoint:

A slight revamping of the westpoint bowl just to make it balance better:

There remains the northwest corner:

I’m still thinking about the area, but I think I will terrace this area as well, with stone steps curving down the left of the area.

The GLRP, 11/08/16

This was fun.

First of all, at Home Depot when I went to load the 12 bags of top soil into my car, I discovered this guy:

Thinking that there were too many ways for him to come to grief in his current setting, I scooped him up and brought him home.  There was a moment of panic when I carefully unloaded the car and he wasn’t there—what if he had decided to burrow under the seats and die?—but I found him and as you can see he’s fairly content to be my friend.  He finally leapt to my shoulder and from there to the hostia by the southpoint.  I haven’t seen him since, but he should be fine.

You will recall from yesterday that I had begun the mini-terrace at the southwest corner.

I decided to lower the far range of blocks so that the border bricks were all on one level.  I could have done that by dismantling the whole thing and digging a deeper foundation, but I found it easier just to replace the concrete blocks with others half their height.

After I got the whole thing walled in and filled in, I stepped back and took a good look at it.

Those who know the Lichtenbergianism process know that it’s time for GESTALT and SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION.  My thinking was that the sinuous outline of the terrace was lame.  It did not resonate.  Its woo factor was pitifully low.

So I fixed it.

Still some adjusting to be done—brick-cutting, etc.—but on the whole I think it’s much better.

Long shot:

I am halfway considering paving that circle around the tree with flagstones like the fire pit and the back corner, but that won’t be until the spring.

I also have concerns that the brick edging is precarious: a slight misstep will knock them off.  If I weren’t so averse to permanence I’d cut them to fit and then cement them in place.  Oh well, if that becomes necessary at some point in the future, we can do that.

Next up: the back corner.

The GLRP, 11/07/16

Back at work on the Great Labyrinth Reclamation Project, this time on the southwest corner.

You may recall that the new fence, in cutting a straight line from one corner to the other, cut off some of my “landscaping” at the far end of the labyrinth, and so I am having to revamp that corner.  It’s always been problematic in that the bricks that I used to create a border were continually being covered over by soil washing down the little slope there.

So my plan is to build a small wall and fill that in with dirt.

Here’s the bottom layer of wall:

And more:

I didn’t buy quite enough blocks, so back to Home Depot today.  I will also buy the fill dirt to put in there and then seed it.

Meanwhile that back corner will become a nook of some kind:

I already had two large pieces of fieldstone, so I went ahead and put them down.  I’ll get to this area later this week.


The GLRP, 11/01/16

I bought a timer for the sprinkler last week—none of the timers I had bought previously worked, of course—and so the labyrinth was watered while I was on Lichtenbergian Retreat last weekend.  When I got home on Sunday, I went to check on things and was astonished to find:

The grass seed has already sprouted!

Now to keep it alive for another four weeks…

The GLRP, 10/26/16

Step 4: Improve the walkway

Years and years and years ago, before there was a labyrinth, before there was anything in the back yard but weeds, I created a walkway.  It has remained a constant no matter what else has happened in the area.

After we put in the patio two years ago, I re-landscaped it with mulch and all that jazz, but that has never been quite satisfactory.  The mulch drifts, and it looks messy.  So now I’m taking steps to contain the mulch:

The majority of the work was creating a trench for the dwarf mondo grass.  The ground is so dry and hard that I used a trencher to cut through the soil, then again to create a parallel cut.  I watered it to soften it, waited, then went back over it with two different shovels, watering and scraping the whole time.  It was tedious.

I also wondered at the ethics of a construction grading firm who—twenty years previously—blithely bulldozed all the construction detritus into what was surely going to be a landscaped back yard.1

I also also wonder at The Home Depot, where I bought out their entire stock of dwarf mondo grass (six flats), and the nice lady watering the plants asked if I would be needing more.  I cheerfully replied, “Maybe, but you certainly will.”

Getting the mondo into the ground was easy: plop the plant into the trench, cover.

“People” will tell you that mondo grass is easy, that you plant some and it will “spread” and “fill in.”  These “people” are lying.  It never does.  There was a small patch near the downspout by the patio for twenty years, and it never grew nor spread.  Never.

So if I want to further fill in the path with mondo, I will have to buy it and plant it.  That should keep me busy until my mid-70s at least.

In other news, you may have seen the video on the FaceTubes about the cool little metal triangle that all manly men should have to cut lumber and/or pipe.  It slices, it dices, it’s better than a Veg-O-Matic.  I bought one last month and yesterday I got to use it for the first time.

One of the great pleasures of being alive is when something like this is everything that is claimed for it.2   Where was this device during all those years of set building at the theatre??

I used it to cut a board to insert into the fence along the patio, because of course the lighting fixture we’ve been holding for a couple of years, waiting on a new fence, is too big to fit between the rails but too small to attach to the rails.

One more thing: a huge task on my GLRP checklist was to dig up the underground speakers and figure out why they had stopped working.  I figured I would at least have to buy new speakers; I hoped I wouldn’t have to dig up the cables as well.

I plugged in my little marine amp (not all-weather, just weather “resistant”) and plugged in the iPad and the speakers, just to be ready to test.  Lo! the far speaker, down where until last week there were ferns (::sigh::) began playing.

Great, I thought, only one speaker to dig up.  I began to pull up the bricks that I had laid around the speaker to slow down the ivy.  As soon as I touched the second brick—THE SECOND BRICK, KENNETH—the speaker came on.  This is after months of not producing sound of any kind.

I chalked it up to living a virtuous life and replaced the brick.

…to be continued…


1 I don’t have to wonder at all.  I remember the day: I had arrived home from school to find the bulldozer guy grading the entire back yard into a slope down to the retaining wall despite the contract to create two levels.  I stopped him, told him he was doing it wrong, he said he knew nothing about it and started back up.  I stopped him again and told him rather acerbically that either he could call his boss and find out the specifics, or he could finish the job and then I would call his boss and he would have to re-do the entire yard.  He rather sensibly chose the former.

2 Another thing that performs equally well is the Sonos sound system.  It’s awesome when you can have every speaker in the house playing a different station and can control all of them from your phone or iPad or computer. But I digress.

The GLRP, 10/25/16

Step 3: Reclaim the southwest corner

Yesterday I began reconstructing the southwest corner.

The problem is that the new fence was designed to cut straight from one neighbor’s fence on the right to the other neighbor’s shed on the left—and the original chain link fence hugged the retaining wall before jogging over to the shed.  Hence, I lost two–three feet of landscaping, as seen here:

There is actually one of my ferns on the other side of the fence now (which, it just dawned on me, I can go dig up and move…) I’m also missing several cherry laurel saplings which framed the westpoint bowl rather nicely.  Oh well.

The area’s been problematic anyway: the slope of the ground there means that the bricks are always being covered with dirt washing down the hill. It’s impossible to grow grass there, and the battle with the ivy and the thorns is never-ending.  So revamping it is a net plus, actually.

First, take up all the bricks:

Here’s what I’m thinking: define an extension of the mostly level labyrinth area, build a mini-retaining wall, fill in the space with dirt, re-establish the brick edging.

Install some stone steps leading down to that back corner and resurface it with paving stones, perhaps as a little sitting nook?

I’ll let this sit for a couple of days to see how it grows on me.

The Great Labyrinth Reclamation Project

The Great Labyrinth Reclamation Project [GLRP hereinafter] has begun.

Given that it’s been too hot to do any outdoor maintenance, and given that we’ve had no rain, it should come as no surprise that the labyrinth is a minor disaster: the grass is dead, while the ivy/bamboo/privet/wisteria have run riot.

Normally, that would not entail a lot of worry.  Just get out there and kind of work it out as one moseys through life, ne-ç’est pas?  However, in a moment of weakness earlier this year I agreed to allow the labyrinth to be a part of the Presbyterian Preschool Tour of Homes on December 3.  So now I am under a deadline, which at least will get the job done.

Step 1: Install a new fence.

Here we have a happy labyrinth owner installing a new bamboo fence over the original chain link fence six years ago. This was for privacy, of course, and it was quite lovely, although as you can see it did not completely block anyone from seeing into the yard.  I was not worried, since I knew the ivy would grow up over the bamboo and provide cover.

Which it did, and that worked—until the bamboo began to rot and break down.

Here we see, if through a lovely sprinkler earlier this year, the wild and woolly state of the fence.  (That lush green grass died almost immediately.)  It was really ratty looking, and that included some rats who would trot about on top of the chain link.

And so I’ve been looking for someone to replace the chain link with a real fence.  I tried dealing with a builder recommended by a neighbor, but that person led me on (since April!) and I finally turned to Angie’s List, where I found First Fence of Georgia.  I highly recommend them, although parts of this process may give you pause about hiring them.  Ignore the roadbumps: this is a good company.

I really wanted an 8-foot fence, given the proximity of my neighbors, but city ordinances only allow 6-foot fences.  I could have applied for a variance, but by the time I hired First Fence it was too late.  So I asked First Fence to install a 6-foot fence with 8-foot posts; I could, if I wished, install art stretched between them, art that might even look like curtains.  Or summat.

The crew arrived at 8:00 a.m. and got straight to work.  Every now and then I’d wander out and smile brightly at them.  Chain link—gone.  Ivy—ripped out.  Post holes—dug.  Posts—installed, two feet deep in concrete.  Cross pieces—nailed in.

And so it was that shortly after lunch I went to the back yard to marvel at their progress and found—to my horror—that they had installed 6-foot posts.

I suppose I could have been a raging asshole and demanded that they tear everything down and start over, but a) that’s not who I want to be; and b) the expense, while probably bearable by First Fence, might have fallen on the two young Hispanic men who had made the error.  Let’s face it, unless someone had specifically told them, “Remember this dude wants 8-foot posts, so that’s different than what you do every other day of the year,” it was easy to miss the one reference (in 6-point type) to the posts being 2′ taller than the fence.

On the other hand, I had asked for—and was paying for—8-foot posts.  So I stopped the work and told them about the problem.

The lead worker was calm, but crushed.  He double-checked the blueprint and there it was in plain 6-point sight.  I told him I wasn’t mad, exactly, but I was upset.  I’d call the office to see what they recommended.

By the time I had spoken to the office (and been told the person to whom I needed to talk would have to call me back), the lead worker had a solution: what if we ran 2x4s up either side of the posts?  I liked it, specifying that they use cedar instead of pine just for extra safeguard against warping.  And so we did.

Quite frankly, even though it means that I will have to create the art, i.e., EXTRA WORK, KENNETH, I think it’s actually more attractive.  I think First Fence should offer it as a design, and I think they ought to pay the young man who thought of it royalties.

More to come.  Way more to come.

“Gestures of approach”: a personal response to a scholarly article

In the most recent edition of Caierdroia: the journal of mazes & labyrinths [v.45, 2016], I was struck by the following quote:

As Ullyatt notes in “Gestures of approach”: aspects of liminality and labyrinths, “A threshold constitutes a boundary line or marginal area… from which a movement inward or outward may be inferred, even if not necessarily pursued….”1

Given my interest in all things liminal, I tracked down Tony Ullyatt’s article, published in Literator [32(2) Aug 2011: 103-134] and gave it a read.  Here are some thoughts.

Summary: Ullyatt discusses some definitions of liminality, discriminates between two- and three-dimensional aspects of labyrinths, summarizes various descriptors of the labyrinth walking process, and finishes up with a “brief consideration of the liminal significance of the Knossos Labyrinth’s location on the isle of Crete.”

For those just joining us, a limen is a boundary; the term—as liminal and liminality—has been appropriated by ritual scholars (Turner, Van Gennep, et al.) to describe the boundaries between “real” life and the mental/social/spiritual states entered into by practitioners of various rituals: shamans, priests, labyrinth walkers, artists,etc.  I have used it in  Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy to link ritual, the Hero’s Journey, and the creative process.

Essentially, the liminal state is where we are when we strike out from the normal (State A1) and find ourselves in unfamiliar territory (State B).  With any luck, we will return to State A2, changed/triumphant/renewed.  If we’re talking about labyrinths, that boils down to entering/center/leaving.  That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.

What I found curious about Ullyatt’s article was that he (she?) takes the OED definition of liminality and springs from the concept of “threshold” to discuss the opening of the labyrinth as an entrance to a house, i.e., entering a labyrinth is in some way similar to returning to one’s own hearth.  It seems to me that this is missing an essential element of any labyrinth: crossing the threshold of a labyrinth is not returning in any way but rather a leaving, a striking out from State A1 to arrive at State B.

Yes, “threshold” implies a house/home, but Ullyatt has not considered that, like Bilbo Baggins, we may find ourselves over that threshold following a road that goes “ever on.”  Or that we may someday need to break through a wall and make a new door where there was not one before so that we can create new paths for ourselves.  We may go into a labyrinth, but I think it is the same as going into the woods: in no way are we seeking the familiar when we do so.

As we Lichtenbergians say, while sitting around the fire pit beside my labyrinth,

Take the pathway
to explore
Return to the fire
to confirm

Ullyatt goes on to talk about the labyrinth as sacred space, quoting Eliade:

The sacred is always dangerous to anyone who comes into contact with it unprepared, without having gone through ‘the gestures of approach’ that every religious act demands.

This concept has always interested me since I have found, both with my labyrinth and especially with the 3 Old Men labyrinth, that there is a tension between the expectation of “dangerous approach” and the reality of these two labyrinths.  Indeed, at the burns we have found that many people express trepidation in entering the labyrinth, especially when the Old Men are officiating.  (We are fairly awe inspiring.)

My take is that the burners who pull back from entering/experiencing the labyrinth are responding to the labyrinth’s powerful pull as a sacred space and to their own fear that they don’t know the “gestures of approach” that will allow them to enter it safely.  I also believe that they recognize somehow that to enter the labyrinth is to strike out to the unknown, to leave State A—and who knows what State B could even be? If you’re a hippie who’s just trekking down to see the Effigy or to boogie at Incendia, that may not be on your agenda.

As Ullyat asks in a series of pertinent questions:

Apart from the certainty of the path itself, what expectations might we have about what could happen to us, psychologically at least, on the journey to the centre? Where are we heading? And in which direction? Are we moving “inwards” and, if so, what does that mean geographically, physically, psychologically, or spiritually? When we arrive at the centre, where are we then? Have we arrived at some sort of inner sanctum, the core of our being, the central purpose of our journey, after which our lives will be changed in some manner forever? What were we expecting to find at the centre? Have those expectations been met, and, if so, in what ways and to what extent? What are we meant to discover there? […] At the centre, are we only halfway through our travels? Uncertainty seems unavoidable unless we are made ready for the experience.

… Further, we might ask: Is the obliteration of the self, even temporarily, one consequence of arriving at the centre?

I wouldn’t go in either.

Of course, the Old Men are not there to guard the space, although that may be difficult for the average hippie to discern by torchlight.  We simply hold the space for anyone to encounter on their own terms.  We knew going into our first burn that we would host drunken revelers, smart-ass kids, and idiots.  All are welcome to enter, race through, step over the walls, laugh riotously, and in general miss the point.   That’s perfectly fine.  We’re not there to enforce orthodoxy.  Or heterodoxy, for that matter.

I will note here that the labyrinth of the 3 Old Men presents an interesting variation and challenge on the usual definition of labyrinth and the process of walking one.  First of all, there’s not one path, there are four—and each of those four paths split and rejoin twice before reaching the center.  We often see burners enter the labyrinth under the assumption that they are encountering a maze—that is, they are there to solve a puzzle and must be on guard not to be tricked—only to find, if they’ve chosen the “wrong turn” that they are merely in a simple loop and cannot be tricked except by their own expectations.  However, it is undeniable that there is an element of choice present in this labyrinth that is simply not there in the traditional unicursal design, from which entrance to use through the splits in each path to which exit to take.

Further, when the Old Men are officiating, the shape of the experience changes.  Without them, participants can walk to the center and back—the usual A/B/A journey (albeit with the above-mentioned choices to make).  When we’re standing at the entrances, though, there’s another, significant focal point.  After journeying “there and back again,” the walker is offered an additional, final opportunity to find meaning in the experience: depending on which Old Man he encounters, he will be offered a blessing, a request for a blessing, or a struggle (however he defines it).  I would be interested to know whether most participants regard that final encounter as in fact “final,” the end of their experience; or, as I see it, a second “beginning,” a hippie equivalent to Ite, missa est.3  I imagine that mileage varies.4

At any rate, in the second half of the article Ullyatt goes on to lose the thread of his topic with a meandering discussion of three-dimensionality, i.e., the space around labyrinths, and something something Minotaur.  He does note that a labyrinth is a “sheltered space,” that “the space around the labyrinth (rather than just the area the labyrinth itself occupies) may offer some sense of spiritual refuge and safety.”  I have certainly found this to be the case, both in my own back yard and with 3 Old Men.  Even with the camp next door blaring karaoke “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or Incendia’s DJ whomp-whomping away across the road, burners have told us repeatedly how calming they have found our installation—and now that we’ve been to enough burns, they look for us to provide that refuge.

Liminality.  It’s a thing.


1 Louët, A.P., & J.K.H. Geoffrion. “Labyrinth doorways: crossing the threshold.” Caierdroia, 45: 11-31.  This was a discussion of representations of literal doorways at the entrances to floor labyrinths and need not concern us here.

2 Lyles, et al. The Book of the Labyrinth. The Path.

3 Said at the end of the Catholic Mass.

4 Deserving of some thought and analysis, but not here: what choices are being made by those who leave by the “front” entrance to the labyrinth, i.e., the octagonal mat with our bowl of white kaolin body paint, and where there is no officiant?