Posted on 03 July 2014.
I’m telling you straight off that I cannot reveal the labyrinth’s specific location. The wishes of its benefactors dictate that it remain a place of peace primarily for locals, not a tourist attraction. When you find it, as many Bainbridge Islanders and their friends already have, you will understand.
The Hall’s Hill Labyrinth exemplifies the traditional purpose and symbology of a labyrinth (not a maze) as a kind of spiritual and imaginative journey moving on a circuitous path to the center of the self and back into the world again, connecting us with natural and cosmic energies. Created by artist Jeffrey Bale, the Hall’s Hill Labyrinth is a powerfully energetic work of art, layered with meaning, permeated with intelligence and love, founded on vision and hard physical work, and blessed with ineffable “being.”
The Labyrinth was officially introduced to the community Sunday, June 29, at a dedication ceremony at which some 150 people gathered to welcome and honor the completed work. They held hands, played music, and some cried, including those who had visited Bale during his construction of the Labyrinth and donated small tokens for him to add to it, often in memory of a lost loved one.
I interviewed Bale the day after the ceremony as he was saying farewell to his creation in a quiet spot surrounded by madronas, Douglas firs, big-leaf maples, red cedars, and the rest of the small park beyond. I found him alone there walking the labyrinth’s circuits one last time (at least for a while) before heading back to his home in Portland, Oregon. Commissioned by two Bainbridge Island residents (who prefer to not to be named) to build the piece, Bale spent nearly a year visioning, planning, and finally building the labyrinth, which took three months of dedicated labor.
The Sun center with eagle feather
Bale estimates he collected some 25,000 pounds of rocks for the labyrinth from Bainbridge Island beaches, pouring over shorelines for the rights shapes, sizes, and colors, mindful not to disturb beach creatures in the process, and hauling bucketfuls to and from his little 1986 Toyota pickup. He collected the majority of stones from nearby Rockaway Beach, which has a wide variety of rock dumped from lumber vessels that used rock from far and wide as ballast. Thirty-six feet in diameter, the labyrinth’s circuits are framed in steel. Bale used mortar to place his rocks, which he artfully, laboriously arranged section by section of circuit by circuit.
Bale told me he created the labyrinth as a path leading to the Sun at its center, which visitors reach by moving around circuits dedicated to the nine planets in our solar system (including Pluto!), as well as a moon circuit that you can see in the outermost ring containing 12 moons for the lunar cycle. He based his design on the 11-circuit Medieval walking labyrinth at the Chartes Cathedral in France.
Starfish, with five points
The Hall’s Hill Labyrinth is surrounded by eight boulders placed to mark the Cardinal points. Its entrance is due east and has four differently colored “pie slices” reflecting the four seasons. Looking from the eastern entry point, winter is to the right, with a whitish/gray overall tone, and greenish spring is to the left. Fall is the reddish area, and summer darker gray-blue. The colors of the stones are richest when wet and are best viewed after a rain to experience their full pallet. However, the labyrinth also is wonderful to behold dry, when it is safest to walk on barefoot, something Bale recommends, saying the reflexology of the experience is a healing and deeper way to connect to the energy of the place. When I returned to photograph the labyrinth early the next morning, two women arrived and thoughtfully walked it in bare feet.
In constructing the planetary circuits, Bale was mindful of the Greek/Roman mythology surrounding them, and he incorporated that mythology in his stonework in various ways. For example, one can find lightning bolts in the Jupiter/Zeus ring, starfish in the Neptune/Poseidon ring, and hearts in the Venus/Aphrodite ring. Bale constructed the center Sun ring with longer stones to animate the spot with a sense of powerful shooting fire. Flowers are ubiquitous throughout, because, as Bale put it, “It is a heavenly garden.” After starting the labyrinth in the fall, Bale took the winter off to travel to Greece, where he visited sacred sites and collected stones and bits of ruins to add to the labyrinth.
Bale also incorporated concepts from the Native American medicine wheel, which symbolizes the cycles of life, symmetry, balance, and, most profoundly, connectedness with nature. In keeping with Native American tradition, Bale included in his stonework token animals such as the eagle, bear, buffalo, and mouse, as well as personal objects from friends and visitors to the site. Looking closely, one finds within the labyrinth crystals, shells, sea glass, and other personal items, common additions to medicine wheels.
Tokens for lost loved ones
Bale, who built the cistern at Bainbridge Island’s IslandWood and the Council Ring for Dan Hinkley and Robert Jones at their garden at Windcliff in Indianola, Washington, said his stonework was inspired by his time in Spain where he was impressed with mosaics. In essence Bale creates stone mosaics informed by a range of cultural belief systems and natural cycles, united by his goal of fostering connectedness and heightened consciousness.
Bale told me that during his work on the labyrinth he was often moved by energies flowing to and from the site. At the start of the project in creating the first eastern moon, he found an eagle feather. He explained that the eagle is the animal that presides over the east in the medicine wheel. The feather still stands in the center of the labyrinth where he placed it as a token. Bale said that on the day he completed the labyrinth two eagles circled overhead for several hours, completing his own personal creative cycle. During the project, when he was focusing on the Jupiter/Zeus circuit, and putting in stone lightning bolts, lightning struck very nearby in Blakely Harbor. “I feared I had invoked the spirit of Zeus, and I gathered my things and just took off,” smiled Bale. He said when he was working on a deer token, a doe walked across the stones. Pileated woodpeckers, a powerful medicine wheel animal, were ever present in a snag next to the site.
Tibetan prayer wheel
I asked Bale about his connection to Bainbridge Island, having done major art projects here twice now. He said he loves Bainbridge and finds it a beautiful place with some wonderful people. He also referred to a kind of grief here, particularly in relation to parents and their children, stemming from a combination of overindulgence and neglect that is often symptomatic of monetary privilege and spiritual deprivation. Bale hopes that the labyrinth will inspire people to rethink their lifeless groomed yards and find ways to nurture the nature around and within them.
As Bale worked he was often treated to the sound of the Tibetan prayer wheel, located in the park just down the path from the labyrinth. Made by Tom Jay, the beautiful, intricately wrought bronze prayer wheel is designed for the “pilgrim” to determine an intention or prayer and turn the wheel. A bell rings on the 9th rotation, setting one’s intention into the world.
Now Bale’s labyrinth has made its full rotation, setting its intention into the world. You are invited to go discover what you think that means to you.
Learn more about Jeffrey Bale and his blog posts about creating the labyrinth here.
This is a photo gallery of the Hall’s Hill Labyrinth and surrounding park:
Photos by Julie Hall. Photo of swing bench by Lucy.