Lake Effect, Spring 2012, Volume 16: Prelude

Nancy Nordenson



    “Don’t expect an epiphany,” the instruction sheet warned us. I know, I know: don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed, but I’m wired for expectation like a kid who knows she’s just going on a quick errand with her dad, there and back, yet nevertheless hopes he’ll pull the car into Dairy Queen on the way. In lieu of epiphany, we’re urged to “use whatever happens on the labyrinth as a metaphor.” The morning sky is gray like dryer lint and hangs low with the threat of rain.

    The guide for this Saturday tour of labyrinths in the northwest corner of where I live tells us there are more public labyrinths in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area than in any other metropolitan area in the world. I’m surprised because I’ve never come across even one. Where are they, tucked away behind hedges or walls or lying so level with the ground that a person might pass them every day and not see their paths rising up ever so slightly above the lawn or trodden down below? The team of tour guide and bus driver would show us.

    Eighteen women and two men board the white and maroon minibus. Our pre-paid “gourmet” bag lunches are packed in coolers in the back. One woman wears a pink shiny raincoat. Another carries a red patent leather purse. Around her throat another woman wraps a shawl, purple, the color of a king’s robe. These colors bob like buoys in a sea of post-winter beige, black and indigo denim. To each other, most of us are strangers on a mailing list.

    A labyrinth is not like a maze, whose purpose is to thwart the walker’s cunning, lose her in a splatter of dead ends, spin him back to the beginning before earning a finish. A labyrinth is a disappointment for a person hoping for such a puzzle. No challenge, no tense thrill. Just one foot in front of the other like any other day. One path takes you to the labyrinth’s center and the same path takes you back out again, exiting exactly where you entered. No matter the paths we walk left to our own devices, for the next six hours there would be no doubt about the way our footsteps were to be set.