Yesterday I put the “me” in “meander” by walking beneath partly cloudy skies toward campus, where I took a meditative stroll through the back-by-popular-demand labyrinth.

I blogged last November about the cloth labyrinth that turned one room of the Keene State College Student Center in to a temporary sacred space; I’ve also blogged about the difference between labyrinths and mazes. Although Keene now has its own permanent labyrinth, I couldn’t resist the chance to re-visit the same path I trod this time last year. In lieu of a time machine, what better way to experience the repetitive, meandering method of life itself than by re-tracing one’s own stockinged steps?

Whereas last year I took (with permission) several photos of the visiting labyrinth, this year a sign insisted No Pictures. So after spiraling to the center of its circle and back, I meandered over to the KSC Science Center, where I photographed its hallway-long vision of the Ashuelot River. Entitled Ashuelot River Flow, this ceramic mural by Nancy Selvage is not unlike a maze or labyrinth, focusing as it does on the winding, curvilinear nature of moving water.

This was my second attempt to photograph Ashuelot River Flow. Measuring some 60 feet long, the piece is, like a river, best appreciated as you walk alongside it, sun glinting through a wall of windows and onto its gently curving contours.

Rivers, like labyrinths and life, follow a logic of their own. The dead-end of oxbows might seem like a waste of time to a practical mind: why take eons carving an overlooked backwater that will eventually be abandoned? If it is Scientific Fact that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, why bother with either swirl or squiggle? In the name of efficiency, why not cut to the chase, sending freshwater from mountain springs directly to and into the low-lying ocean?

The natural world doesn’t like straight lines, preferring to do just about everything, it seems, in the most roundabout, indirect way possible. When you look at a labyrinth, its wending, doubling-back path looks downright silly: why go in circles when you could simply go straight, making a bee-line directly toward the “goal” at its center?

Even bees, however, fly in circles, reconnoitering even the known ground. Just as you can’t walk the same river twice, the “me” who walked last year’s labyrinth (and the “me” who tried photographing Ashuelot River Flow several months ago) isn’t the same person as the “me” who meandered under partly cloudy skies yesterday, or who sits typing in the New Hampshire night now. A ceramic mural is both art and artificial because it fixes in clay a frozen moment of time: here is how one river appeared to one woman at one moment.

Now that the Ashuelot has returned to her banks after her October floods, will she regain the same lean and lithe shape that Selvage depicted? Already here in Keene we’ve seen how a wanton river can re-shape the landscape. In decades or even days, will the river we knew match the river we know, and will our own selves remain constant over the flow of time?

Like a labyrinth, a river wends and wiggles, and it’s often difficult to detect the longterm course of its current. Walking a labyrinth’s narrow, wending way, you are forced to take heed of each next step; looking down, you can easily forget distance, direction, and destination. Am I close to my goal or very far removed? Are we there yet, or almost, or not even close? Life like a labyrinth defies our attempts to count, quantify, and prognosticate; you’ll get there when it’s time, and not a moment too soon.

Trying to take in a 60-foot mural, at times all you can do is try to investigate individual segments, zooming in close to admire both color and contour. Toward what is this river headed? Toward what end do we wend our days? Sometimes all you can do is step back, another wayward wander, to take in a big-picture view: in the long run, even squiggles run somewhat straight, eventually.