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Yo, Adrian! (How Do I Get Out of Here?)

This article was written by Debra Munn
posted under

Adrian Fisher is that most fortunate of mortals -- he earns a good living doing what he loves best. Since creating his first hedge maze some 20 years ago in his father's back garden, he has gone on to design 135 mazes worldwide.

Using materials as diverse as water, mirrors, stained glass, wooden fences, turf, stone, rope, and flowers, the 47-year-old Portsmouth, England, native has created mazes for museums, universities, zoos, amusement parks -- even for the grounds of castles and stately homes. In 1993 he developed the world's first cornfield maze, and in 1998 he designed 12 "Maize Mazes" in farmers' fields across Great Britain and North America. Fisher has created 21 cornfield puzzles in all, four of them in turn recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest.

To make a hedge maze, trees or shrubs are planted wherever needed to form a design. But corn mazes are planted as a solid field of forage maize (a variety with taller, stronger stalks than table maize); then individual plants are picked out to create the desired effect. Sadly, these living works of art last only eight to ten weeks before the corn is harvested for cattle feed, but there's a good chance that Fisher will be asked to come up with new designs for the same spots year after year.

And many of his mazes are more durable. In 1998 he created three in the U.K.: the Chinese Puzzle Hedge Maze for Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Lancashire, the five-pointed-star Murray Hedge Maze at Scotland's Scone Palace, and King Arthur's Mirror Maze at Longleat House, Wiltshire. (Fisher has designed four of the 20 mirror mazes in the entire world.) He has also designed water mazes with special effects such as walk-through parting waterfalls and foaming fountain gates. Other designs have featured bridges, towers, grottoes, tunnels, sundials, statues, live crocodiles, pythons, scorpions, and bats.

Perhaps his most unusual maze is the multi-sensory one at New College in Worcester, England, designed to help blind children develop mobility skills.

"We created pathways where the texture changes every few feet, from shredded bark, to cobblestone, to paving slabs -- up to a dozen different surfaces," Fisher says. "You have to try to predict what you're walking on. We also have strips of walls with gaps in them, so that children can tell just by the change of air pressure on their faces where the walls and gaps are. They can also determine the location of objects by the changing reflections of sound."

The Walk of Life
Fisher may earn his living from mazes, but he clearly also relishes the mythical and spiritual aspects of mazes and labyrinths. He says that both are allegories for the path of life, the journey between birth and death.

Labyrinths have long been used to enhance meditation, as well as for dancing lines and processional routes. Many ancient civilizations saw the labyrinth as a symbol of sex and fertility, representing the womb of the goddess. In Scandinavian courtship rituals, a young wo-man stood at the center of the labyrinth while her prospective partner entered the path, made his way to her, caught her up in his arms, and carried her out again.

"Here the male behaves almost like the sperm fertilizing the egg," Fisher explains. "This ritual appears in many cultures. Stone labyrinths were also be-lieved to quell the power of a storm, and smaller, protective labyrinths have been carved in lintels over doorways in Sumatra, the idea being that evil spirits can't go around corners."

In modern times there has been a resurgence of interest in the spiritual significance of mazes and labyrinths. When a former Archbishop of Canterbury was enthroned, he mentioned a dream in which he saw people walking in a maze. Some were near the middle and pushing eagerly toward the goal in the center, while others were stuck on the edges, seeming to be a long way from achieving their aim. The Archbishop sensed, however, that the people near the edges were actually closer to solving the maze than those who were fuming in the middle.

Fisher says that the owner of Greys Court in Oxfordshire was inspired by the Archbishop's dream. "So we made a brick path design, and 18 months later she dedicated what we call the Archbishop's Maze. It's amazing when dreams and words turn into landscape."

Fisher tells of another maze inspired by a vision. A priest in the Cotswolds was awakened one night by a light as bright as day. Looking out the window, he sensed a comforting presence at his shoulder.

In the garden stood an enormous redwood tree, its base surrounded by brambles. The comforting being at the priest's shoulder swept his hand, and the undergrowth melted away. The hand swept again, and little stones began raining down in circles around the tree. Again, and shoots and shrubs started growing out from between the stones. The being swept his hand once more, and the priest saw people walking among the rows of bushes. Almost as though blind, the people were caressing strips of carved oak. They appeared to be reading inscriptions with their hands to guide them through this pattern of barriers.

When he told his wife about the vision, she said, "You're describing a maze." The priest had never heard of mazes, so he went to research them at the library. When he returned to the rectory, he cleared the ground, laid the stones, and planted trees and shrubs as he had seen them in the dream. Then he hung 15 oak-carved panels representing the mysteries of the Gospel. The priest planned to lead a procession of 200 to 300 people past each signboard and on out of the maze at the base of the giant tree, the symbol of eternal life.

"When I met him, he'd been doing this for several years on the tenth of August, St. Lawrence's Day," Fisher says. "It had never occurred to him to have a plan of the maze design, so I drew one for him. The maze became a major part of his ministry, and it brought many people into the church who never would have come otherwise. One couple who went into the maze bickering, but when they came out, they were shamefaced. The priest asked how they had got on, and the man said that at one point they had become so angry with each other over which way to go that they had split up. The man went one way and the wo-man the other, and a few seconds later they turned a corner and bumped into each other again. Both of them had taken the wrong route! Then they laughed and realized how silly they had been.

"At another place in the maze a sign read, 'Life after death: If you don't believe in it, turn back here.' A young visitor obeyed the sign and found himself back at the entrance. 'I can't find the goal of the maze,' he told the priest, who looked him in the eye and said, 'You're frightened of dying, aren't you?' The young man burst into tears and asked, 'How did you know?'

"'Well, if you can't go through death, you can't reach salvation,' the priest said. He knew, of course, that you couldn't solve the maze without going through what he called the tunnel of death."

The maze was dismantled when the priest died, but Fisher recreated its de-sign as a mosaic in the church where he was buried.

Adrian Fisher never knows where his maze-making may lead him, or what projects may beckon in the future. But as long as he is able, he will enjoy using dreams -- his own and those of others -- to transform the landscape in his own delightful way.


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