Crest a hill at Westminster College’s outdoor biology lab and there is a circular pattern of rocks laid into the ground. It’s a place surrounded by Pennsylvania field, trees and potted flowers.

It is a labyrinth, a series of overlapping stone-bordered lanes that wind back on one another, working inward toward the center. Unlike a maze, there is only one path.

The one is also a memorial, dedicated to Sandra May Edmiston. It was Aug. 1, not even three months after Westminster’s class of 2005 went into the world, when news of Sandy’s fatal rock-climbing accident struck the community.

“It’s a meditative walk,” Dr. David Swerdlow said of the labyrinth. “It’s not meant to puzzle you or anything. It’s just supposed to disorient you from the nagging concerns of everyday life and put you in more of a spiritual, contemplative mood.”

Dr. Swerdlow, who got to know Sandy as her adviser at Westminster, said the labyrinth reflected part of Sandy — how she was always on the move, yet spiritually centered.

Sandy grew up on Phillips School Road in New Wilmington; her mother Kati Edmiston works for the college’s career center, and Dr. Swerdlow called her one of the community’s greatest outgrowths.

She graduated in the top of her class, in high school and in college, delivering the graduation speech at both events, Dr. Swerdlow said.

Dr. Clarence Harms came to know Sandy while she worked in the outdoor lab where the labyrinth now resides, planting trees, passing seedlings out to youngsters and talking about her environmental concerns with the professor.

“Sandy was the driving force for the establishment of a college extension of the Sierra Club,” Dr. Harms said. She later became the local environmental group’s first president.

So when friends and members of the community began to call Kati Edmiston, asking where to make memorial contributions for her daughter, she told them the outdoor lab.

Dr. Swerdlow said that, initially, Kati Edmiston told them to use the money for whatever the outdoor lab needed; she told them if they needed compost, buy compost.

Instead, a committee made up of faculty, community members and students formed and eventually a professor came up with an idea to build a labyrinth.

“We quickly decided that would be a very good idea,” Dr. Swerdlow said. The labyrinth was both a spiritual project, he said, and one located in the natural world.

They ran into a hitch when the committee realized it did not have the expertise for the project. And so Dr. Swerdlow contacted Chatham College, Pittsburgh, where there is an architectural landscaping program.

Mary Burris, a graduate student at Chatham, accepted the challenge, and made the labyrinth project her master’s thesis.

“To do a memorial on someone you don’t know but who was so obviously widely loved was a challenge,” Ms. Burris said. She spent time with Sandy’s parents, read some of her favorite authors and also some of Sandy’s own writings.

“I came to really love all the people I was working with,” Ms. Burris said.

Dr. Swerdlow said he expected the initial construction to take about two days when they began in July. When 50 to 60 people showed up, including family friend Dennis Salmon with his bulldozer, “it was done in three hours.”

The plantings around the labyrinth were selected among five indigenous species, Burris said. “We wanted to keep it simple, natural and native.”

Dr. Swerdlow said black-eyed Susans were chosen as a wild flower because they were Sandy’s favorite.

In the spring, a red maple and perhaps some dogwood are expected to be planted, Dr. Swerdlow said.

The stones at the inner circle come from Maryland and California, as well as from local places, a slab at Sandy’s grandparents’ home and even two special stones from Snake River in Wyoming, where Sandy was working when she died, Dr. Harms said.

“They’re historic in the sense they tell many stories,” he said of the stones. “They also express the beauty of diversity, and the kind of thing that Sandy stood for.”

In a memorial service held Oct. 22, Dr. Swerdlow felt particularly moved by words from Sandy’s mother: “If you are out here and you feel a ray of sunshine and feel a little wind on your cheek, know that it’s an angel.”

“It’s pretty remarkable,” Dr. Swerdlow said. “I do feel Sandy’s presence out there pretty strongly, and I think it’s because people who loved her made it.”



On a stone set at the labyrinth’s entrance, a line of Sandy’s poetry has been set into the bronze plaque: “To live anew in colors that fade as the leaves return to the earth.”

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