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The Labyrinth and The Gratitude Line: A Unique Outdoor Exhibit in Northampton

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An Outdoor Exhibit Comes to Northampton

The Labyrinth and The Gratitude Line, Review

The Labyrinth and The Gratitude Line by Elizabeth Newton. Photo by Ezra PriorHow often does one take the opportunity to express his gratefulness? What form does your gratefulness take? Does it involve a prayer in which you thank the lord? Or perhaps you write letters to those that you love to make sure that important bonds don’t fade. Is gratefulness quantifiable? Can it be measured in cooperation with the amount of goods or love one has received? These are questions some may ask themselves when feeling like they have nothing or next to nothing, ones that can be answered in any number of ways, or simply ignored, if one were to live the life unexamined. But a life unexamined is not a life worth living, and Elizabeth Newton understood this when her friend and her created The Labyrinth.

The Labyrinth is an interactive exhibition that took roots naturally three years ago when Elizabeth and her friend were strolling along the Mill River’s Smith College walking path, a trail that traverses about a mile of woods, bordered by the usually slow-rolling River. Perhaps it was the scenery that evoked the desire to be grateful, as beauty in nature is something so reliable that it is often taken for grated; shame on he who does not appreciate the spring after the frozen winter, and glory to those who are revived by the sudden infusion of greenery and sunshine.

The return of warm weather beckons in our hearts a sense of gratefulness, a sense of returning hope. And so Elizabeth formed a testament to that revelation back along the right of the path, nestled amongst pine trees where she constructed a circular maze out of smaller stones. One can immediately see this destination at the heart of the labyrinth as it has no walls, and yet as the visitor circles to the middle, he or she must be patient, or else do the artless action of skipping some of the circles in order to arrive at the end. Patience and gratitude go hand in hand as one can’t rush to a graceful conclusion or be serene enough to offer back what it has received without taking the necessary and often menial-seeming steps to arrive at a place of peace amongst chaos.

The Labyrinth and The Gratitude Line by Elizabeth Newton. Photo by Ezra Prior

At the center of the labyrinth lies a circle of stones, and within this pile sit a number of objects that people have left behind. Keys and jars, and even a little wooden toy car compile the mixture, making up a donation of things that visitors felt able to leave behind, including also a Lego sailor who stares up placidly into the sky. It was a communal space, and has been for the last three years, despite some local neighbors equating its presence with that of an interruption. It is not a necessarily natural sight, and so they equated its aesthetic amongst the ordinary with the likes of graffiti, disliking its disheveled grace, treating the sight as a breeding ground for public interplay, and mischievous communion. But respect plays a large part in the beauty of these two public pieces as none of the naysayers have come to tear it down; that alone is something to be grateful for: restraint, the most difficult to master of virtues as it required fighting against one’s ignoble impulses, a task indeed.

Next to the labyrinth is “The Gratitude Line.” At its start were permanent markers and ripped pieces of white cloth on which to write one’s gratitudes. People hopped right on board, and the string that weaves between the trees is now cluttered with sloppily written notes, clothing pinned to the line. Some of the trees in that area have been sewn onto, following a trend worth noting in the past few years that has left public benches and trees clothed in intricate wool, a kind of gentle graffiti, ironic and bizarre. This is how humanity has found its way to peace, by submerging the public sphere in its own culture, doing so tastefully, or in other’s opinions not so tastefully. It is so much easier to be cynical about life than it is to be grateful, and as one looks at the notes hanging from the line, the reminder occurs: you should do this too. Life is often so rushed that it is hard to value the simple things, and so ceremonies or expressions of gratitude are often left underfoot on our paths to personal success. Its stillness is what makes the interactive display special as it occupies a space in the human mind that has stopped to smell the flowers, appreciate its company, and then of course…carry onwards along the path and eventually back to the paved concrete, and the complications of our life. After having visited the Labyrinth and the Gratitude Line, one can feel noble, another great side effect of being grateful, and remember back on that place between the trees and the river, between their pace and the still path, and even revisit it, given the day is sunny or the brain is able.

So take the time to visit the homage to all things we appreciate, and rest assured that once you get there, you can’t be alone as you share that space, and peruse through the notes of what people took the time to put ink to.

Ezra Prior is a Contributor to The Free George. Photos by Ezra Prior.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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