The Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana has a rich history, filled with the opportunities and exploits often associated with the West. It was once home to the Bitterroot Salish tribe, saw the passage of the Lewis and Clark expedition as well as Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe and became the home of early missionaries, homesteaders and figures like Calamity Jane. So it somehow seems incongruous to speak of the Bitterroot as the site of an amazing labyrinth whose pattern is a remnant of a different strain of history, born eight centuries ago in the Chartres Cathedral of France.
But as one walks the outdoor, 11-circuit labyrinth surrounded by the Bitterroot Mountains to the west and the Bitterroot Valley and Sapphire mountain range to the east, the sense of cultural oddity is slowly replaced with a sense of being at home. For many, Montana is a place of open space, big sky, wilderness and the possibility of new discoveries and beginnings. So too is the labyrinth, in its way: an ancient tool of self-discovery, a journey toward the sacred center, of being open to the unknown, the unexpected.
It is a meandering path that many believe to be a metaphor for life, leading us near, away and close again to the center, asking us to share it with other travelers who move at different paces and often in the opposite direction.
The Redsun Labyrinth was built by Patty and Helmut Meyer on their property in Victor, Montana. Dedicated in 2000, it has been available to the public nearly every day since. According to their website, it is one of the largest in the U.S. (at 108 feet in diameter).
The berm around the labyrinth is 120 feet in diameter, 3 feet high, topped with cottonwood logs and various bushes providing a natural sense of enclosure and privacy, while the 173 lavender plants that encircle the base of the berm offer their calming scent and color. For me, the walkway to the labyrinth is just as extraordinary with touches of creativity, beauty and inspiration everywhere, natural and man-made, white lights strung through the aspen grove, lupine-filled gardens, willow archways and stone cairns.
I don't imagine any one person who walks the labyrinth has the same experience nor seeks the same result, whether that's solitude, meditation, relaxation or communion with nature. I'm not sure what exactly about the experience draws me back, year after year, but I do know that I am always awed at the enormity of the gift the Meyers have offered those of us who have found our way through the woods to the creation born out of their amazing devotion.
It is clear that the amount of time and materials required (25 tons of field stones were used to make the pattern) was immense. And in the end, their generosity of spirit asks only for donations and is open to visitors pretty much continuously. Several times throughout the year, generally at the equinox and solstices, the Meyers facilitate special evenings where luminaries line the garden walk ways and a bonfire is built for walkers. Full moon walkers are always encouraged. Visitors should be mindful that the Meyer's home is also on the property. Please keep gates closed to keep out the deer and noise levels to a minimum.
Finding Redsun Labyrinth can be a bit tricky. Victor itself is a clear shot down Highway 93, about 40 miles south of Missoula. For directions once reaching the town of Victor, visit their website: http://www.redsunlabyrinth.com/