Out Our Back Door By Tom Baake
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Locals and Visitors Enjoy Sand Labyrinth Creations
By Tom Baake
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Get a look at sand labyrinths from the Face Rock Viewpoint along Beach Loop Drive in Bandon. .

Following reader requests, I checked in with Denny Dyke about how the season was shaping up for his popular raked sand labyrinths on Bandon beaches.

“The acceptance we’re getting is mind-blowing,” he said. “People are scheduling their vacations around us. They’re wanting to come, we’re on their bucket list.” Sessions draw as many as 200 people, he said, and “we’ve had over 11,000 people walk with us on the sand now.”

As in previous years, anyone who shows up can help. Denny’s favorite spot is below the viewpoint at Face Rock State Park in Bandon, where he orchestrates elaborate designs in the wet sand between high and low tide.

For those new to the topic, labyrinths are maze-like pathways on which on one walks, often in contemplation or meditation. But unlike mazes with puzzling choices of paths and dead ends, a labyrinth has only a single path through or to the center.  

Labyrinth patterns and pathways have been created since ancient Greek times, with materials ranging from stone to canvas to sand. The most famous is at Chartres Cathedral in France, and they were popular in monasteries, with devotees walking them for contemplation and a bit of exercise.

People think labyrinths have a religious connotation because of their use in churches, but Denny prefers the term “meditative tool,” available to all creeds and cultures.

He first used them as healing tools as a practitioner with the Church of Religious Science, and later began creating sand labyrinths on Bandon beaches. He quickly drew appreciative onlookers who were encouraged to join in the process.

With their flowing shapes and swirling lines, the elaborate sand labyrinths reflect the interplay of adjacent ocean and beach, every wave bringing new patterns and potential inspirations. The actual pathways are just portions of firm sand left intact, while the borders are outlined with Zen-like patterns of raked sand.

Denny scribes the outlines, then breaks out an assortment of rakes, and briefly schools his volunteers in the various techniques. While any low tide will do, Denny likes minus tides – which are usually accompanied 12 hours later by very high tides – because the low tide reveals more beach, while the high tide scours it all away.

Meantime, watching newcomers react to the drawing sessions is part of the fun; Denny especially likes people “who just come around the corner and stumble onto this,” he said.

Last year’s highlights included a few three-day draws, which inspired him to plan a handful of four- and five-day draws this year. He’s also working with SOLVE, the state’s anti-litter campaign, to coordinate monthly labyrinth draws to support beach clean-ups. The debris is turned over to the Bandon-based Washed Ashore project that turns it into fanciful artwork to raise awareness about oceanic litter.  

“We hope to do a lot more of that sort of thing in support of the Oregon coast, and it’s going to be an exciting year,” he said. “It’s just a fantastic journey.”

 But one thing he’d really like to do is “figure out ways to keep ourselves funded,” he said. Because he draws on state park beaches, he can’t charge admission or take donations. “We sold some calendars and did some commission work, did a couple of weddings, but we hope to be taken under the wing of an arts organization as a public artistic venue so we could take donations that would be tax-deductible,” he said.

Among his burgeoning expenses are the handpainted “dream rock” mementoes given to  participants.

But he’s optimistic, saying “we kicked it up a notch last year and we’re kicking it up a notch this year and we’ve had some inquires already about next year.” He said a separate fundraising effort is under way in Australia to bring him over for some healing and labyrinth work in Australia and on Tasmanian beaches.

Meantime, back in Bandon, he’s posted his schedule all the way through the end of August, and is creating a series of posters to publicize the four- and five-day drawing sessions planned for this season. “We’re going to see how much further we can go with this this summer,” he said.

“Last year was just a trial for us to see how far we could take this,” he said. “And the answer was ‘As far as we want.’”

Denny’s next drawing sessions are at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 15 and 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 16, below Face Rock overlook. See the full schedule at www.circlesinthesand.us or on Facebook at Circles in the Sand.

(Shopper columnist Tom Baake is author of regional guidebooks.) 
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