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A Labyrinth for Sandy Edmiston

Posted on Thursday, July 20, 2006

Anyone questioning community spirit and the outpouring of love would have benefited from an amazing accomplishment on Saturday, the 15th of July. By estimate, over 50 people moved over 100 tons of gravel and stones into a circular path that is called a labyrinth. This project, over 10 months in the planning, is a memorial to Sandra May Edmiston whose death on August 1, 2005 shocked the New Wilmington community and started an avalanche of love by those who knew her and many who only learned of her through word of mouth.

On July 8 my group of a dozen ecotourists from five states and one foreign country sat in the dining area of a small yacht on the equator and listened to the story of how Sandy had matured beyond her age of 22, had developed a sensitivity to life and the fragile environment (much of which we had just seen in the tropical rainforest of eastern Ecuador and in the Galapagos Islands), had wanted to scuba dive in the Galapagos, had written poetry and, as a result of her adventurous spirit, met with a fatal rock climbing accident. Like Sandy, these were people who often lived on the edge! Only one of them had briefly met Sandy, yet all had tears in their eyes and made a financial contribution to Sandy's memorial projects at the Field Station. Some of the money came in foreign currency and had to be exchanged in Ecuador. All of it was given in the same spirit of love that motivated our community to contribute money, time and effort to assemble the labyrinth. The sad news is that Sandy has moved on. The good news is that she has left a legacy. Three memorials at the Field Station will attest to that legacy: 325 trees planted this spring, the meditation labyrinth and a rock sculpture / birdbath that is still to be constructed.

For those unfamiliar with a labyrinth, here is that story briefly summarized. A labyrinth is built as a circular path to be walked. The labyrinth walker simply follows the path with switchbacks from entrance to the center and then back. Paths that wind back and forth are lined by stones, shrubs or grass. This is not a maze where one might encounter dead ends; there is only one path, one entrance and exit. The earliest known designs are about 3000 years old, representing the path of the soul through life. Labyrinths are found all around the world in many cultures and civilizations. Some Native American tribes use labyrinths, as do some churches and religious institutions. Villa Maria, just west of us, has a nice, grassy one. Labyrinths have been carved in rock, ceramics, clay tablets, mosaics, manuscripts, and cathedral pavements. Occasionally they are painted on canvas and rolled out on a gymnasium floor.

The labyrinth for Sandy is away from the hustle and bustle of road traffic, about 200 yards west of the Nature Center on the Fayette-New Wilmington Road, just beyond the break of a small hill. It is 64 feet in diameter with an east-facing entrance -- toward the rising sun. The gravel path is lined with stones of various sizes and shapes, most of which had been contributed or collected locally. On June 13 more than 25 youth and adults of the Junior High Youth Group from the New Wilmington Presbyterian Church helped wrestle stones from an old "farmer's pile" at the Field Station. There are seven stone-lined paths in this labyrinth, all connected into one. The center, 15 feet in diameter, is special -- these stones lining the center were all given with love by friends and family of Sandy. Each stone has been mapped and its position will always be a private memorial to Sandy. A monumental slab, weighing more than a ton, forms a bench in the center for the walker to stop, sit, contemplate and benefit from the peaceful surroundings. A large rock at the entrance has a perfect place for a plaque that is planned to have a "Sandy quote" and the dates of her birth and death. On the slope of the hill above and to the east of the labyrinth is a retaining wall for a small group to sit and ponder or hear each other speak. Future landscaping will feature special trees and wild flowers. Grass will be planted.

Sandy's labyrinth was designed by Mary Burris-Brown of New Castle, a student in a landscape architecture degree program at Chatham College in Pittsburgh. The planning and assembling of the labyrinth is her thesis project. The area had to be leveled, covered with ground cloth and topped with a layer of gravel. Excavation of the plot and retaining wall was contributed by Dennis Salmon of Wallace Builders who began the bulldozer work three days ahead of the community involvement. Colleagues from Wallace Builders, Pic Electric, Westminster College, neighbors, friends and family of Kati and John Edmiston graciously shared their skills of operating machinery and manhandling huge foundation stones. Jeff and Kim Gilliland supplied "fixins" for lunch. So many people from the College and Community who shared the experience are to be thanked for unselfish work with moving stones and providing drinks and snacks for all workers. Where else but in New Wilmington could this happen?

The labyrinth is now open for any and all who wish to come alone or in a group, to walk or sit, to contemplate in silence or with laughter and to stay a short time or for hours. Temporary signs will direct the walker from the yard of the Field Station, 937 Fayette-New Wilmington Road, to the Labyrinth site and to the Frey Nature Trail. Formal dedications are planned in the future for the memorial trees, labyrinth and rock sculpture.

Clarence Harms, Director of the Field Station

Junior Hi Youth Group from New Wilmington Presbyterian Church gathered stones for the labyrinth on June 13. Here they are selecting their "favorite stone" to be placed in the inner circle of the labyrinth. Rev. Lisa Hickman is their leader.
Friends and family of Sandy Edmiston built the labyrinth on July 15 by placing stones to line the path. The inner circle with "favorite stones" is ready to be set while excavation for the retaining wall is done by Dennis Salmon.