Category Archives: labyrinth

separating paths

I am going to talk today about something more personal than I usually like to do on this blog.  My husband and I have decided, after 30 years together, that it is time to part.  Outside the obvious pain and the mundane why’s of it all, I was thinking today in more metaphoric terms to try to explain this dissolution.

I can’t quite remember what year Ben found labyrinths.  He had been writing a large & scholarly book on sacred geometry wrapped around the geometry of the pavement in Michelangelo’s Laurentian library, and in his thorough and polymathic way, Ben looked into every kind of geometry and sacred practice he could find until he walked into the idea of labyrinths.  What was meant to be a chapter wound its way around into a lifelong journey.  Ben began drawing and analyzing every imaginable kind of labyrinth, devising methods of generating them and writing extensively about the meanings inherent in the path one chooses to walk.  Each labyrinth of necessity offers a different approach to the center; one might take you spirally ever closer to the center while another might flirt back & forth, into the middle and back out, quadrant by quadrant, before delivering you home to the center.   All of it has been a profound practice of finding one’s way, metaphorically and literally.  I have watched Ben literally travel this path over the years, becoming a leader of other walkers, a kind of mesmerizing shaman. Labyrinths have become the central practice to his teaching: his favorite thing is to take a studio full of architects to the beach and draw labyrinths in the sand.  People come to our cabin to pace their paths in a simple dirt circle in the back, following Ben on his shuffle labyrinth.  It has been lovely to watch, but a practice I have remained on the outside of.

(from Ben Nicholson’s series of hundreds of labyrinth study drawings, colored pencil on vellum)

Meanwhile my own path has remained that of the shuttle: back and forth, back & forth, looping at the selvedge, traveling a known path towards the unknown of the art I was making on the loom, the path itself simple, slow, clear, but the journey equally mystical.  I understand this journey, it keeps me calm and open and is such a perfect meditation that I have needed no other.  Because of this weaving process I can completely empathize with the journey that labyrinth people speak about, but I am not on that particular journey.  This has proven to be a separating stance.  I feel slow, simple, grounded while Ben has been a gloriously whirling dervish.  Now he is whirling away.

“Beset”, 2010, wool with rayon, silk, metallic & cotton

Some couples do everything together.  Some couples, when they are both architects, practice together: they are together all day and together at night.  I don’t know how they do this, although it is remarkable and some of our friends have lives like this. I don’t want to indicate that something as large as the end of a marriage can be reduced to a simple story like I tell here.  It certainly is only tangentially to do with labyrinths.  I simply say this, we have discovered we are on separate paths, and I needed to write about it in the open.

more hearts


I am in Santa Fe New Mexico this morning, having come here with my friend Docey Lewis.  She is deeply involved with Haitian artisans, many of whom have lost the workshops she helped them to establish over the years, so Hand/Eye Fund (related to the sumptuous Hand/Eye Magazine, which you absolutely MUST subscribe to if you love textiles and fine crafts from around the world) is sponsoring A Million Hearts for Haiti to raise needed money for rebuilding.

Santa Fe has grown so much over the years — as everyone comments upon — that the hustle & bustle seem comparable to New York to me after the peacefulness of my home in New Harmony.  Fun and stimulating for a few days, but I am ready to quiet down again.

In addition to the market — which I have described in a bit more detail on my other blog — we went up to Abiquiu for a night to see Ghost Ranch (the famed home of Georgia O’Keefe) and also our friends Philip and Ali Newell, who are doing their annual 3 week spiritual residency at Casa del Sol there.  The tranquility and sheer beauty of the region were unsurpassed.  We have had long conversations about the importance of place — both New Harmony and Abiquiu are “thin” places where one is closer to God (or if you prefer, to your own center).  Docey and  I were so struck that we have begun making plans to get back there for a retreat ASAP. 

I have written several times about labyrinths in this space so it seems fitting to show you the simple heart labyrinth that has been made at Casa del Sol.  And above that, a lovely prayer tree next to the labyrinth where prayers are written on strips of cloth and tied to the branches of the tree to be whispered to the passing winds.  Below, the heart stone at the center of the labyrinth.

Tonight we move along to Albuquerque to spend the night at Los Poblanos Inn, an organic lavender farm with a bed and breakfast.  Should be heaven.  More soon!.


I still wonder at the transformation that continues to manifest itself in my life.  After moving to this rural community 4 years ago, we revelled in the garden and it has grown (thanks far more to Ben’s efforts than my own: I am the harvester-cook, not the digger-planter) to a satisfyingly grand scale. But the “back 40”, as I like to call the wild portion of our 1.4 acres beyond the vegetable garden, has slowly gotten out of control.  The first two years we hired in someone to disc & plant it for us, so we had beautiful buckwheat one summer with sunflowers mixed in, then winter wheat the following spring.  But that was expensive and somewhat unpredictable as we depended upon our neighbors with farming equipment to do this for us.  So we gave up the last couple of years and watched it go to weeds.

Last week Ben took the plunge and, after doing his typically meticulous research, bought a secondhand 1950 Ford tractor — beautifully maintained and restored — and several huge attachments including a bush hog.  Who would have thought how utterly exciting I would find this addition!   It means we can now begin to truly shape the land, take control of our own property and make something really wonderful.  I can even imagine learning how to drive it myself.  It is so beautifully simple and straightforward!  It all makes clear sense.  And it is so beautiful.  I drove in yesterday from a week away and saw it sitting in the drive next to Ben’s Subaru and was jsut thrilled. You might remember my earlier posts about tractor ribbons and the tractor parade, so to have a sweet machine of our own like this is fabulous.

This morning in a short space of time Ben jumped on it and bush-hogged (what a word) the weeds in back, and though it is scruffy and ugly at the moment it is now a ripe slate for our visions.  Ben wants to build a labyrinth suitable for riding horses in (something he has been working toward with his sister Cordelia , for the Labyrinth Society Gathering this fall).  I would love to see a field of lavender out there some day. We are this much closer to those visions now.

I should note that Ben is particularly in his element here — a lifelong connection satisfied.  His family was in the farm machinery business as Nicholson’s of Newark, for a century, winning gold medals at the Great Exhibition for their innovative equipment.  Ben was raised in the expectation that he would take over the business, but in the 1970’s the business went under in the dire British economy and Ben went on to architecture school instead.  I hope he will mount the Nicholson’s tractor seat (which currently hangs over the front door) on his new baby.


I have never pretended tp be a quilter — last quilts I made were in high school out of dressmaking scraps. They were pieced simply of squares but the colors were carefully chosen. I made one of pale fabrics, one of blue fabrics, one of red fabrics, then I learned to weave and never devoted much time to quilting again.

However I did leap forward last fall when it was announced that the annual Labyrinth Society Gathering would be held here in New Harmony (and that my husband Ben, and his sister Cordelia Rose, would be co-chairs of the event) and suggested that a community quilt be made from one of Ben’s square labyrinth drawings (see the page from his most fabulous sketchbook, above).

It seemed straightforward enough: I imagined a strip-pieced quilt with a few right angle turns. So I proposed it as a silent auction item and we invited the membership of TLS to come forward and help make it. 14 quilters + myself + Cordelia (who had not sewn since the 1970s, presumably when she left her position assisting in the Textile Department at the V&A — now there’s a recommendation!), have each received a section to make. Ben since converted the process into an intellectually simple, but physically somewhat challenging, method of using one, diagonally striped, square to piece the entire quilt. Elegant in its thought, but a bit tricky in execution as it makes nearly all seams on the bias.

I chose some fabulous fabrics from one of my favorite websites (
and after Ben had an architecture student draft the pattern, I cut the fabric up and sent it out. The blocks are beginnign to come back. They are gorgeous. Cordelia got together with her friend Sam Stineburg last week (an expert quilter who has tested the pattern for us and given us priceless advice) and she triumphantly wrote that their blocks are in the mail to me and here are photos of their process. Thanks to all of you quilters who are helping us achieve this!

an ecstatic tree-hugger

What better activity for all-hallow’s eve and all saint’s day than to rake more leaf labyrinths? Ben created this sublime piece of work yesterday, Halloween, at the base of the most beautiful maple tree in New Harmony, on the grounds of our Granary building. Ben worked several hours simply determining where to position the entrance. The tree’s arms receive the visitor and the labyrinth echoes its embrace in a joyful dance.

The Granary was built by the Harmonists to store grain, and was lovingly restored ten years ago by the Rapp Owen Granary Foundation to become the most glorious interior space in town. Happy weddings take place there, along with concerts of all kinds during our winter nights. The acoustics are nearly perfect. Two weeks ago I had the intense pleasure of listing to the chamber music ensemble of the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra play 3 of Bach’s Brandenburg concerti there one golden October afternoon. It brought me to tears. As does Ben’s work here.

Ben will continue work on this and maybe a new labyrinth all day today. Please come visit if you are in town!

pine needle labyrinth

Later in the day on Saturday, Ben made a labyrinth by raking the pine needles at the Harmonist Cemetery. These have withstood several days of wind & rain and still look fresh today. The leaf labyrinth has now been overlaid with a glimmering blanket of yellow leaves as the maple shed nearly everything in yesterday’s rain. It is still visible as a subtle raised pattern below the blanket of yellow.

Tomorrow Ben will resume raking meditatively for the three days he is home between teaching stints in Chicago.

temporal labyrinths in leaves

This past weekend my husband Ben spent the entire 2 days outside in the warm October sun, raking leaves into a beautiful labyrinth at the base of a brilliant sugar maple in the Harmonist Cemetery. He made a second labyrinth nearby by raking pine needles. These are temporal works of art, maintained by constant Zen-like raking, beautiful to walk and to gaze up through the boughs of the generous tree-host.

Labyrinth Society of America

It it exciting to report that the Labyrinth Society of America (TLS) has decided to hold its 2010 Annual Gathering here in New Harmony, Indiana. It wasn’t a hard sell — New Harmony has 2 labyrinths which attract thousands of visitors, and my husband, Ben Nicholson, is a well-known labyrinth expert, and also an expert persuader. He just returned from the 2009 TLS annual Gathering in Portland, OR, full of ideas and anticipation for next year.

We have already hatched plans for making equine labyrinths, guided by Ben’s sister Cordelia Rose, of Whitewater Mesa labyrinths in Glenwood NM. Cordelia has built several labyrinths out on her land and trains horses to walk them, something which both increases the animal’s agility and calms him. She came out here in August and worked with a number of horse owners to convince them to participate with their horses in the TLS gathering next year.

Ben is excited about making new, temporary labyrinths all over town, including the dirt “shuffle labyrinth” he keeps cleared at the back of our land.