Boise Relics, Curiosities, and Collections

The Boise VA Labyrinth - Find Yourself While Walking in Circles

If you like the obscure, the archaic, and the overlooked, you'll enjoy this little creation that supposedly has mystical powers. And while you're there, you can hug a veteran or play Parcheesi with him. It's the least you can do.

In the Boise VA Hospital compound, on the grounds of what was originally the second incarnation of Fort Boise, there's a little ridge upon which you can find some tall brick buildings. Across from what is currently the Behavioral Health Building, there is a small open patch of lawn. Or at least it appears to be just a patch of open lawn. Despite its first appearances, there is a small labyrinth in that grassy space, but if it weren't for a sign right next to the adjacent parking lot you would never know there was something notable in the area.

At this point you might be scratching your head, wondering what exactly a labyrinth is and why you should be impressed. In simple terms, a labyrinth is a collection of flat stones laid out in concentric circles so that they form a winding path to a center area. Unlike a maze, there are no dead ends or branching paths, meaning if you follow the path you will always end up at the goal. Apparently, walking this path to the center and back out at a slow pace is supposed to promote meditation, peace of mind, spiritual enlightenment, and whole bunch of other stuff.

The VA didn't come up with this concept all by themselves. The labyrinth is an ancient creation that goes back 4000 years and spans all religions, meaning it was fun for the whole family long before the ancient Greek philosophers were debating the merits and usefulness of young boys. Through time there have been some very impressive labyrinths, one of the most impressive being on the floor of a gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. Today there is even a Labyrinth Society and a Labyrinth Locator.

The much more famous labyrinth at Chartres -- Photo from Wikipedia

In 2001, some local folks in the mental health field figured that old crotchety war veterans would just love to walk in circles out on the lawn instead of in the mess hall, so a plan was hatched to build a labyrinth on the Boise VA grounds. With the help of some Boy Scouts, this idea came to fruition in 2004, and I bet it sure was pretty when it was completed.

Six years later, however, there is one obvious flaw in the design. The labyrinth was intended to be low maintenance and blend into the natural environment, and it accomplished both of these goals. The problem, though, is that grass grows and lawns rise as the years pass, meaning that it's getting rather difficult to see all the stones. If a labyrinth is supposed to present an obvious and unambiguous path to the center, thereby allowing one to focus less on the physical details and more on the spiritual journey, if might be time for the VA's hardworking grounds crew to break out the edgers, trimmers, and Roundup so grandpappy can stay on the right track and not start yelling at the grass. We don't want him to get all riled up so he forgets to take his medication.

Regardless, if you're looking for a little introspection, this little curiosity could be the spot for you. The place is quiet, the scenery is nice, the intent is honorable, and it's open to everyone. And if the spiritual stuff ain't working for you, the nearby stone buildings are original to the old fort, making them the oldest buildings in Boise and well worth a closer inspection. The area is, after all, the cradle of Boise history, even if that history is only around 150 years instead of 4000.

Relic, Curiosity, or Collection: The VA Labyrinth
Where: On the VA Hospital grounds (old Fort Boise), next to the Behavioral Health Building

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Hours: Dawn to dusk, year round
Cost: Free
Website: None
Why we love it: I like to imagine there is an arc, some witches, and few gold plates buried underneath it.