Saturday, October 4, 2008

Blog 4: Corn...Maize...Corn Maze...Get It?

What a fun night I just had! It was a complete blast. It all started while I was mowing this afternoon. Adam comes strolling out into the yard, phone in hand, all nonchalant like so I power down and pluck the hearing protection from my head. "Dad, Timmy called, he wants to know if I want to go with him to the Corn Maze tonight." "Well, do you want to go or not?" "Yeah, I guess so." So I call Timmy and tell him Adam can go and I iron out the details with his mother. Ten it. Five thirty tonight, we'll see ya then.

Two cars pull into my driveway at a quarter to six. Not only is it Susan number one, but Susan number two right behind all giddy like schoolgirls. They're going to the corn maze, and they are toting 2 pre-teen girls, 2 ten year old boys and a 7 year old girl. Lili sees her little friend buckled into the back seat of Susan number two's car and immediately wants to go too. We were going to have a good old Father-Daughter mousetrap battle tonight but suddenly the plans have changed. If both kids are going then daddy had better go too. So we run inside and put on our "going to the corn maze on a cool October evening" clothes which include jeans, sweatshirt, jacket and mud shoes; because corn mazes are notoriously muddy.

I decide to ride with Susan number two, we'll call her S-2 from now on, and Lili because S-1 is toting the pre-teens and, now, 3 ten year old boys. There's no way I'm riding in the minivan from hell all the way down to Deed-By-Gawd St. Mary's County. Of course the ride was uneventful.

Arriving at Bowles farm ( you can't even begin to establish the enormity of this maze. Think of The Shining, but 10 times larger, no snow and razor sharp corn leaves everywhere. Yes you can kind of see through them, but when the sun goes down all you see is stalks, ears and maybe a flashlight beam or two. At least you don't have to worry about starving to death in there. These corn plants are 10 feet high in some places. We got there just as the sky was turning bright orange with fringes of crimson and violet, absolutely beautiful. The waxing moon was at about a quarter and the North Star was calling out, "follow me."

We pay our admission and the boys take off. The girls follow closely behind and we all know it's going to be a boys against girls race through the maze. The gauntlet is thrown, the teams choose their flags and the boys choose Phase 1, the right side of the maze, and the girls choose Phase 2, the left side. Into the stalks they run. I quickly grab a can of coke, for hydration in case the Susans get me lost and a long plastic pole with a number 2 flag on it and follow S-1 and S-2 into Phase 1 to trail the boys in the event they get too rowdy, or get lost.

Immediately upon entering S-2 announces, "I have a lousy sense of direction" and I know where this is headed. Both Susans have a map of the maze, and I have two maps in my pocket just in case. We can hear the boys ahead, and behind, and beside, they're everywhere. We see their flashlights trickling through the corn stalks and try to track their voices and footfalls going every which way, all the while trying not to let them know we're tailing them. S-1 takes the point and S-2 and I trail behind.

Strolling through corn stalks at dusk, the smell of moist topsoil, mildewy stalks and the crispness of the Maryland autumn air is very calming. It's as if you are inhaling the breath of God with every lungfull. And you envy the American farmer every foot you traverse. They are carrying loads of debt for unbelievably expensive equipment, working from dawn until dusk, every day worrying if the weather will provide that windfall of crops, or if Mother Nature will add to their financial woes. Walking and breathing the earth one can appreciate all that the Land has to offer, and the many days of hard work our farmers endure to feed our families.

After a few missed turns, more than a couple paths that lead to a wall of corn, and the hushed giggles of high schoolers doing that hormone infused dance of adolescence we make it to the halfway point, a 15 foot tall bridge from the "T" to the "H" in the carved word "LIGHTHOUSE". In the 20 minutes it took us to traverse the waves hewn into the field and the clouds carved into the field we've lost sight and sound of the boys. Several forks in the road hold clues to the right (I mean correct) path, if you can solve trivia questions like "What's the tallest stalk of corn ever recorded in the US?" or "How many kernels of corn are in a bushel?" We stood atop that bridge for 5 minutes, ears cocked, eyes sharp, searching for signs of the boys. The stars were out in force now, the band of the Milky Way clearly marking our place in the universe, reminding us of the vastness of creation. And across the expanse of a 10 acre corn field we hear them. Boys calling out, girls screeching, and we know they are ours. And they've flown through Phase 1 without us and actually caught up with the girls in Phase 2. We can see their flashlights on the bridge on the other side of the maze. Well, all that's left is to make it through Phase 1 and wait for the kids to come out together.

So S-1, S-2 and I wander through the second half of the maze, through more clouds, through the mast of a Maryland fishing boat and into the floodlit kill zone that is the field between the maze and the barn. And we wait...and wait...and wait. They aren't coming out. S-1 calls her daughter on the cell phone, it's a wonder it works down here in God's country. "We're coming" says the squeaky voice on the other end with the feigned disdain that all pre-teen girls use on their mothers. Finally, after another 15 minutes the boys burst from the exit, flashlights blasting, running and laughing and smacking each other on the back of the head trying to knock baseball caps from their perch.

But no girls. Another 5 minutes, still no girls. The maze closes in 10 minutes and still no girls. And finally, with only a couple minutes until farmer Bowles sends in the cavalry out they come. The smallest clinging to the back of the oldest, blisters on her feet because she's in new Timberlands that aren't quite broken in. The two smallest have puffy eyes and look a bit out of sorts. And farmer Bowles Sr. sidles out of his masterpiece right behind them. "I had to rescue these ones" he says to his son who was manning the entrance/exit wearing a bright yellow security tee shirt with "CORN COP" printed across his shoulders like a Washington Redskins Linebacker.

Apparently the girls got lost, imagine that. The older ones told the little ones to wait in one place while the two big girls split up and went different directions to scout a way out. Guess who forgot to leave a flashlight with the little ones? Yup, it was dark, they were alone with only each other and everyone left them behind. Good thing farmer Bowles Sr. was standing watch in his maze. When the big girls got back to the rally point he was there to guide them home. And the third pair of parents who were with us during our outing, I never got their names, where were they? They were even more lost in the maze and they were supposed to be shadowing the girls in case they got in trouble. They come walking out about 2 minutes after the little ones. Now that the team is fully assembled it's time for ice cream.

We all caravan off to Bert's Diner. It's got stainless steel on the outside, an old yellow Pontiac on the roof and a Wurlitzer Juke Box, complete with bubbles, inside. We all order cheeseburgers and ice cream. I turn S-2 on to Bert's world famous hand dipped chocolate malt with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and a cherry on top. They always make too much and send the malt out in an old fashioned soda glass with the extra malt in a stainless steel mixing cup. It's the best chocolate malt I've ever had and routinely stopped at Bert's on my way home from work to bring one home to Loretta on special occasions and sometimes just because.

After we're done eating S-1 whips out a pack of cards and we play a few rounds of spoons while the kids blow quarters in the game room. S-2 was new to the game, and for any of you who don't know how to play here's a quick summary of the rules. Everyone gets 4 cards. There is one less spoon in the middle of the table than there are players. The dealer picks up the top card on the deck, decides to keep it or pass it, then repeats, passing discards to the player on the left. The card is checked by the next player who keeps or passes it. You can only have 4 cards in your hand. Once someone gets 4 of a kind they pick up a spoon. Once one person picks up a spoon everyone can pick up a spoon, and the player without a spoon is a big fat loser. So S-2 is the first to get 4 of a kind, she's sitting right next to me. When she gets her 4th card she makes this sound, "ooooohhhhh!!!!!" and everyone grabs a spoon. Guess who didn't get a spoon. That's right, S-2 had no spoon. Actually nobody had a spoon because we were playing with lottery pencils because the waitress took all our spoons when she cleared the table. It was hilarious!!!! S-2 was the big fat winner and the big fat loser all in the same hand. I want to play strip poker with S-2 some day.

If you've never been to a corn maze I highly recommend it. If you've been, go again. Don't every stop going. It's not just about the kids. It's so much bigger than anything. Surely it's no Yosemite, no Grand Canyon, no Niagara Falls. But it's very personal. You can touch, feel, smell and experience all of nature's gifts in such a small place. Yet the vastness of the experience cannot be equalled. It's so small that it becomes huge, and so big it reminds you of your small place in this world.


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