Each year Merlin eagerly looks forward to the annual early spring Daffodil Labyrinth Party in Mendocino. As a four month old puppy, the weekend was Merlin's first big overnight road trip. We packed his mobile dog house with familiar blankets, squeaky toys, water dishes, and puppy food for three days and headed north.
Puppies have tiny bladders. We stopped every half hour for a stretch, sniff, and drink. When I was a kid, our family spaniel only rode in the car on her way to the veterinarian, so the one time we tried to take her on vacation to a friend’s cabin up north she howled and puked all the way there. And back. Since here in California we drive everywhere, including to our walks, I knew any California canine companion would need to be road-ready and car friendly. We collected puppy Merlin from the Valley of the Moon when he was six weeks old and he’s been riding around joyfully ever since. Merlin adores his MerlinMobile and is happy to sit in it even when it’s parked in the driveway all day. One of his top favorite phrases is: In the car. Other favorites include What’s this?, Say please, and Oops! (especially when exclaimed from the kitchen). And of course, Road Trip! He rides about, senses thrust out the window, brain expanding and tracking. How astonishing to watch the earth shift and change around you with no knowledge of maps or countries. Merlin is like an early explorer, setting out for new worlds, guided by the sun and stars (and his chauffeur's GPS). He inspires me to discover new places, take the back roads, stop often for a stretch and a sniff.
The three hour drive threads through the ranch land north of San Francisco and west along US 128 through Boonville. Boutique vineyards are nudging out sheep ranches so we have to be sharp to spot spring lambs. Merlin’s got a thing for sheep. He’s not sure what it is, but he’s supposed to do something about them. We slow down so he can give them the Intense Herding Stare silently from the safety of his MerlinMobile. He also plays close attention to the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. He likes microbreweries. They serve french fries.
The annual daffodil party has been hosted since 1987 by Alex and Joan Champion on their property down a remote dirt road. The festive weekend gathering in early spring celebrates labyrinth walking, feasting, art, music, and travelers’ tales from the road trip of life. It’s our family reunion. One year there was a total lunar eclipse.
Alex is a labyrinth builder. He creates outdoor earthworks by digging and mounding dirt, engineering for drainage, wildflowers and beauty. His installations include public parks, private homes, schools, and conferences from hillside rock gardens to painted playgrounds in Chinatown. Merlin has helped with several, including the 80 foot installation at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. There are five earthworks on his property in Mendocino and in early spring a verdant carpet of native grasses flows around river stones and quartz rocks anchoring the pathways. Dozens of daffodils pop from the premier seven circuit Cretan Classical labyrinth.
This was Merlin’s first labyrinth. As a puppy, he could barely see over the foot high mounds from the path. He followed us boldly, at our heels, right where he wanted us. Round and round we trotted, following the path and other walkers right and left, to arrive in the center. Merlin immediately claimed the grassy knoll center as the best place from which to herd the entire troupe of walkers. He tracked everyone but when I ran along the outermost ring he shot towards me, hopping straight across the labyrinth, leaping from bank to bank. He bounded the mounds, tagged me with his nose, and bounded back to the center. Everyone cheered and a new game was born. Merlin spent much of the next two days running around the pathways and leaping from mound to mound. Thus his first and lasting love of labyrinths.
Last year’s Daffodil Party was cancelled because Joan Champion had just passed away. She had battled, and beat, cancer for a year but the treatments wore her down and she transitioned into pure spirit on the weekend of the annual daffodil party she loved so much. This year we gather again at her home in Mendocino to celebrate her life, and each other’s precious company. One last daffodil party.
Of all the labyrinths Merlin has visited from Grace Cathedral to Detroit, the Champions’ meadow earthwork daffodil labyrinth is his favorite. Come walk with Merlin!