It began as a troubled slumber.
Despairing the deaths within six months of both parents, Norma Stark wept in her backyard on a July day in 2006.
Maybe she should plant a rose bed in memory of her father, with whom, as a girl, she d shown Guernsey cows; some gladioli and snapdragons for her mother, with whom she sometimes clashed.
She fell asleep with a heavy heart.
And when I awoke, boom! The plan was right there, says Ms. Stark, of Perrysburg. She was not only refreshed, she was inspired.
Within minutes, she envisioned what her lawn would become: a garden of peaceful beauty, anchored by a round, brick labyrinth reminiscent of the 13th century one in France s Chartres Cathedral. It would be a place to ease the pain of others. Paths through the trees, plantings, fountains, and stone benches would surround the circuitous path that people would walk meditatively.
It unfolded as if there was a God-inspired plan, says Ms. Stark, 59. Petite and effervescent, the retired music teacher got busy.
Three months later, she was in Santa Fe at labyrinth-facilitator training, learning how to maximize the walking-the-labyrinth experience for herself and the hundreds of visitors she hoped to welcome in the years ahead.
I present it differently to different people and groups depending on their beliefs, she says.
A week before Christmas, she had a powwow with the men who would design the labyrinth and landscape, and do the grading. It would be a stunning 33 feet in diameter.
An ancient spiritual symbol, labyrinths have grown in popularity since the early 1990s. In a world saturated by stuff, people seek a spiritual core, says John Ridder, who has designed and built about 125 labyrinths since 1994.
People can approach a labyrinth on their own terms. That s the beauty of it, he said in a phone interview from Las Vegas where he was constructing one at a hospital. There s no required liturgy.
Mr. Ridder, of Indianapolis, created one for the Olympic Village chapel before the 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City. Coming on the heels of 9/11, he incorporated internationally-understood symbols of peace at every turn a dove, an olive branch, a handshake, a torch.
For Ms. Stark s nine-circuit labyrinth, Mr. Ridder adapted a design from an ancient manuscript.
In March a 15-inch-deep base was dug and filled with 48 tons of gravel. For an 18-inch-wide containment ring surrounding the labyrinth, a 24-inch-deep trench was filled with cement.
The pavers, a golden-buff color, were poured. An old underground well at the home she shares with husband Jim Stark was tapped for a sophisticated watering system with five zones and an emitter running to each plant. Five fountains were installed.
In April and May, a brick artist from Illinois spent 13 days laying the pavers, setting in the center a 13-chamber nautilus he carved from golden limestone.
At the labyrinth s stepping-off point, he inscribed a large rock: As you enter walk in love. At the center, be still and know that I am God. When you return, go in peace.
Ms. Stark set a basket of stones on a bench engraved with single words: strength, hope, wisdom, believe, peace. Walkers can hold one as they pace the labyrinth.
It s noncultural, nondenominational, she says. There s just some kind of a strong spiritual attraction where people come to find peace and connectedness with the earth.
Ferns, hostas, and coral bells were tucked under old trees; a pink rosebush because she gave her mother pink-rose corsages. A gated trellis and a small bridge were refurbished; the chain-link fence replaced by a lattice-topped privacy fence. Drainage tiles were covered by a dry creek bed of blue stones.
A zen garden edged by rocks and filled with white sand and tools for drawing patterns was built. She s come outside to find a swan and a Celtic cross drawn in the sand.
On a cafe table at the entrance she set a dove. A welcome sign reads In memory of Norman and Anna Belle Swaisgood.
This is open to anyone who wants to walk the labyrinth, she says, but I m not going to advertise it.
In the last few months, she has welcomed hundreds of visitors of all ages, some who request her guidance, others who quietly come and go without knocking on the door of the Stark s tidy ranch house.
I ve never been happier in my life or more at peace, she says.
In August, the garden took first place in the theme-garden category in this year s Toledo Botanical Garden contest.
Contact Tahree Lane at: email@example.com or 419-724-6075.