15 February 2010

Sibley labyrinths

Deb and I spent some of our Valentine's Day afternoon over at Sibley Volcanic Preserve, an erstwhile rock quarry, since returned to nature, in the Oakland hills.

I can't remember where I first got the idea to visit this park, sometime in the mid 90's--it may have come up in a conversation about nearby hiking spots, while at a barbecue with friends at Tilden--but the surprise and awe I still recall registering, at coming across the labyrinths tucked away in the various quarries therein, has me remembering that no one had mentioned them beforehand. This can't be true. I can't now believe that someone would recommend visiting Sibley without also mentioning the labyrinths...

I've only been there maybe three or four times since, years pass in between; but I remember, that first time, getting some unusual help in appreciating the place as a sort of resource: I feel like we'd maybe been taking the least "up" of whichever forks the path took (although, again, there's not much trust to be placed in my memories of this), and thus had stumbled across three or four "lesser" labyrinths before we topped a small berm and looked down into the deep quarry home of the Big One. The other labyrinths had been some peculiar pieces of geo-art to find unexpectedly in the wild, fun things for hippies to do with rocks, and fun, too, for the rest of us to find, in their far flung locales--kinda like anthropogenic twists on the natural order, like, if you've ever taken a long hike in the Sierras, across broad granite surfaces where no trail is evident, and found your way marked with small cairns. But this bigger labyrinth, situated on the floor of the deepest quarry, had at its center a little pile of... tchotchke? Sort of a little altar, an agglomeration of odd items items mixed in with the rocks. I remember digging through it and finding all sorts of small treats. One of them was a tiny black plastic box with a button, which, when pressed, spoke something along the lines of "take something and leave something". It was revelatory.

I can not honestly recall whatever I might have dug from my backpack to leave there that day, nor precisely what I got in return. I know, on subsequent visits, I had chosen something from home, in advance, but still, I can't pull up the details of any of those trades. Yesterday, despite best intentions, I was pulling into the Sibley parking lot before it came present to mind what I was there to do. I felt bad for Deb, for my not having adequately prepped her about this stage of the journey; but she was able to pull something out of what she had at hand. The first thing that sprang to my mind, to give, was a peacock feather, that came with the car and hides under the back seat, along with a lot of other accumulated "trash", visible only when I'm dropping the seat to cargo position, or raising it back up. It has definitely brightened up that cluttered little corner of my life, lo these many years, far more so than the torn maps, candy wrappers, and stray lengths of speaker wire with which it had been keeping company 'til now.

At the labyrinth, I placed the stem of the feather in a green glass vase, which also had a few dollars inside. And from the stockpile, I took a small bottle labeled "Miracle". Inside, is a little bit of what smells like it might be some cheap perfume... But really, the prize of yesterday's trip was in the little marsh adjacent to the path. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of frogs, croaked in chorus, which was only audible as far as the edge of the quarry--so, it really helped create a unique environment. The labyrinth was partially flooded, turning it's path into a slippery muck, so tracing its route had some air of danger and precariousness. I can't decide now whether that was to highlight the difficulties of following the path, and to help me appreciate having made it through the maze without falling, or to draw my attention away from the proscribed path, and over here, into the pool beside the muck, where, in addition to the frogs, there were dozens of salamanders (or newts?) swimming around, and thousands of little egg sacks.

Here, I YouTubed some video Deb took. Turns out there's a lot of "frog sounds at Sibley" on the YouTubes:

So, I can't say we went there with any intention to "communicate across the species barrier", or anything. We had the notion to head for nature somewhere, and Sibley crossed my mind as an option, with the added bonus of... whatever you can draw from the labyrinth experience. But the amphibian kingdom represented itself well in this experience. I don't have any explicit translations of the conversation to offer you.

When we returned home, I decided to see if there was any mention of Sibley in Erik Davis' The Visionary State, a big coffee table book I recently bought with a Christmas gift certificate. This is what he writes:

Students of the earth mysteries claim that volcanic regions create powerful vortexes of psychic energy--a claim that presumably extends to rift zones like the San Andreas Fault, and that would therefore tell us much about California. Such volutes of telluric energy may also help explain the mysterious labyrinths that have appeared over the last few decades in Sibley Volcanic Preserve, an undeveloped series of hills and gulleys that surround Round Top, the tallest volcanic formation in the Oakland Hills. Historically, we probably owe the labyrinth to the Minoans on Crete, and the design later became a feature of some medieval cathedrals, where it came to symbolize the journey of the soul. Recent attention to the calming and meditative effects of the labyrinth's spiral dance have encouraged its spread around the world, with scores in the Bay Area alone, including two prominent Chartres-style designs at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. But none of California's labyrinths can match the haunting serenity of the ones in the Sibley preserve, which are well maintained and regularly host gatherings of witches and warlocks and other feather-clad wonder workers. The largest and most impressive of these mazes was built in the center of a deep quarry by Helena Mazzariello, a Montclair sculptor and psychic; the rest were constructed anonymously. Originally, Mazzariello laid out her stones in a classic seven-circuit Cretan design, with the opening to the south. Later, some unknown innovator added on to the labyrinth, extending the opening from the south to the northwest, where the entrance lies today. As with most of the park's stone designs, the motivations behind this unauthorized addition are unknown. But it may reflect the geomantic orientation of California itself, lodged in the northwest climes of the great dame Earth.

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