In 2020 we will feature extraordinary works of writing by recent Ranch guests. Each piece focuses on The Ranch and moments of personal insight, observation, or awareness.
Circling The Ranch
by Deborah Burand
Edited by Kathleen Flinn
My father is training for his first visit to Rancho La Puerta, even though he’s in remarkably good shape for an 86-year old. After I showed him a map of the ranch, he added extra minutes on the treadmill to his workout regime.
“Here’s where we’re staying,” I said, pointing to our villa. “And here’s where we’ll eat.” I saw his eyes widen, so I quickly added, “Don’t worry. The map’s not to scale. Nothing is all that far.”
“And the labyrinth?” he asked. I pointed to the far edge of the map.
That’s when his treadmill workouts started in earnest.
After my mother died six years ago, my father’s life as a widower took a decided turn, several turns in fact. One day he told me that he’d been asked to give a talk about accomplishing his bucket list. “I don’t know what to say to the audience,” he said. “I don’t have or even want a bucket list. I’m trying to live expectantly, not with expectations.”
“What if you talk about filling pails, not buckets,” I suggested.
In the final days leading up to my mother’s death, I asked my father to consider making a schedule for the next six months. “Let’s make sure you have things to look forward to after she’s gone,” I said late one night. I handed him a calendar. After that first six-month period came to an end, he surprised me by creating another half-year schedule. He kept up this practice, navigating his life as a widower in six-month increments, pail by pail.
This coming trip to Rancho La Puerta is his newest pail. I’ve been telling my father about the ranch ever since my first visit. I talk about new friendships I’ve made there and old friendships that I’ve deepened. I read him passages from journal entries I’ve written about how the ranch has worked its magic on me. I show him photos I’ve snapped and watercolors that I’ve painted to capture the ranch’s beauty. But it is my descriptions of the ranch’s labyrinth that hooked him, I think.
Four years ago, my father began to talk about creating a legacy. Pail-sized, of course, to fit the resources and time he could invest. That legacy turned out to be a labyrinth placed near the memorial butterfly garden and Monarch Waystation that my mother breathed into life before her death.
He drew multiple patterns of concentric circles before settling on the labyrinth design to be etched on a concrete disc. As his labyrinth plans took shape, I watched my father’s excitement mount. “This is my dream come true,” he said to anyone who would listen.
It fast became my dream come true, too. But for me, the dream was that my father would once again find joy in life. If it took a slab of concrete painted with white circles to do that, so be it.
Since creating this modest labyrinth, my father’s been on a labyrinth pilgrimage, traveling from Indiana to France and soon, to Mexico. In France, he walked the medieval labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral in his stocking feet. “The better to feel it,” he explained later. But that was not an easy walk for him. The ancient stone paths were uneven, worn from use and cold. He nearly lost his balance several times. “That’s what life is like for me now,” he told me. “I’m having trouble keeping my footing.”
To walk a labyrinth as my father does is to step into a metaphor. His labyrinth encounters serve as a sort of mirror, reflecting his physical, emotional and spiritual state of being.
The labyrinth at Rancho La Puerta is a replica of the one in Chartres Cathedral, replete with eleven circuits and a six-petaled center. But at the ranch, tree branches, not stone spires, shelter its walkers. Wildflowers, not incense, scent its paths. Birds, not choirs, shower carols from above.
I am trying to follow my father’s lead to live expectantly. But I must admit that I have hopes for his upcoming labyrinth times at the ranch, born of my own experiences there. I hope that he’ll exchange warm greetings with fellow guests who are passing by the labyrinth on their morning hikes. That he’ll hear the tinkling sound of windchimes stirring in the air when he circles near. That he’ll feel the rays of sunlight heating the labyrinth’s paths.
Finally, I imagine him reaching the labyrinth’s rosette center and smiling. Another pail filled.