BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN About 50 people threw yellow rose petals and pellets of lavender into the air as they celebrated the dedication of the labyrinth in Riverside Park Saturday.
During that blessing, labyrinth committee member Maria Peterson said, “We call on the spirit of the Crow River. We call on the spirit of the land. We call on the spirit of the people of Delano. We call on the spirit of the labyrinth. Let all of these elements come together in peace and harmony to enliven and warm this place.”
The dedication of the labyrinth was more than four years in the making.
Stephanie Etzel explained that the idea was born out of a leadership course she took in January 2014.
She said she tried to back out of it, as many others in the course backed out of the projects they had proposed, but those who went on to become the labyrinth committee encouraged her to carry on.
“My project had already been introduced to these people, who embraced it with enthusiasm and joy, and it was gaining momentum and commitment, so we kept going,” Etzel said.
The committee hosted fundraisers, wrote grants, established the Delano Labyrinth Project Facebook page, collaborated with the Delano Area Council for Arts and Culture, offered free community education presentations about labyrinths, and presented to civic groups.
Members of the committee attended community events with a labyrinth painted on a large canvas, helped children draw labyrinths on pieces of paper, and answered a number of questions about labyrinths, which Etzel also addressed at the event.
“No, it’s not a maze,” Etzel said. “A maze has several entrances and exits and roadblocks. A labyrinth is unicursal: it has one entrance, one path, one exit.”
Labyrinths are used in schools, a neurology unit at a Canadian hospital, prisons, and churches, Etzel said.
She added that people walk labyrinths for many different reasons.
“It is walked by people grieving loved ones and dealing with life-threatening diagnoses,” Etzel said. “It is used for fundraisers, for honoring and remembering veterans of war, for weddings. It is walked by dogs and horses, who help their people cope. It is walked by diversity groups and by South Africans reconciling from apartheid. It is walked for solstice celebrations, and other events that connect us to the earth.
“And yes, everyone’s experience is different on the labyrinth,” Etzel continued. “A paraphrased quote from a book, ‘Walking the Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth’ (states) ‘The labyrinth is a gateway to the unseen world that accompanies us always. It brings us to where we can access our sight, our knowing, our inner wisdom.’”
Because the labyrinth is located on public land, the proposal needed to be approved by the Delano City Council following an extensive review process. After three council meetings, the proposal was approved by a 3-2 vote Aug. 19, 2016. Conversations regarding the religious affiliation of the labyrinth and alternative options for the site had preceded the final vote.
That set the stage for more than 70 volunteers to install the labyrinth with the help of labyrinth builder Lisa Gidlow Moriarty May 7, 2017, which happened to be International Labyrinth Day. The end result was an 11-circuit labyrinth measuring 55 feet in diameter modeled after a labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France.
In order for the labyrinth to be usable, grass needed to grow.
“After several attempts, and great support from the city, the grass finally started to grow,” Etzel said.
That’s when the committee met Brennan Slipka, who was looking for an Eagle Scout project, and opted to provide landscaping at the site.
Etzel is impressed with the end result.
“This labyrinth is now a piece of interactive public art, a collective gift from so many people who supported it,” Etzel said. “To the community, this labyrinth has taken on its own benevolent personality, and is ready to support all who choose to walk on her. She is finally ready and prepared for this venerable role. Today is another ‘Holy cow!’ event, and we hope you will all come to know her as we have.”
Etzel expressed gratitude to several entities and individuals who contributed to the installation of the labyrinth.
She also honored the late Sam Peterson and Willie Shaw.
“Their comforting affirmations and prompts from the other side of the veil kept us going,” Etzel said.
She concluded her remarks with the Latin phrase “solvitur ambulando,” which is translated as “It is solved by walking.”
City Administrator Phil Kern and Delano Park and Recreation Commission Chair Tom Schaffer also spoke.
“Obviously, any good process goes through a lot of review, and this was no exception,” Kern said.
In addition to the review process, the city needed to have a site available for the labyrinth.
“We identified this being the site but, at that time, this was a slope, and we had to figure out how to make a pad that would accommodate the labyrinth,” Kern said. “It just so happened, as luck would have it, we were doing a street project nearby and had some extra dirt, and we were able to create the pad and make this a custom site to accommodate what we have today and what the committee wanted.”
He expressed appreciation to everyone involved with the labyrinth for their patience and positivity.
“It really is a lot of effort and a lot of hard work that went into making this such a beautiful park,” Kern said.
He attributed all that work to the “spirit of community” that Delano embraces as its motto.
“The town was founded, built upon that spirit of people rolling up their sleeves and working hard to improve our quality of life, and to have places where we can all get together and have community,” Kern said. “I think there’s no better example of that than this project.”
Schaffer provided more history, stating that Riverside Park was established in 2011, with 11 spaces for artwork.
“This labyrinth is the third addition,” Schaffer said. “ . . . We’re glad to see the labyrinth here. We’re very excited about it. We really appreciate the hard work the committee did. Most of the park projects in Delano are community led. We really appreciate people for bringing forward projects like this.”