I imagined myself lost and alone in a field. Corn stalks engineered by the most maniacal geneticists clawed at the sun. A breeze pushed husk against husk and the sound conjured a daydream of a villain rubbing his palms in anticipation. I navigated a narrow path through the crop; a path probably cut by artistic aliens. There was a way out, I knew. And there were others, somewhere. Voices filtered through the walls of green. I smiled, in my half-hearted search for the exit, because I was happy—thrilled—to have lost my bearings in a too-civilized world.
That is what I imagined when my co-worker, Lacey, invited me to go to a corn maze last weekend.
Lacey drove past the entrance to the maze at the end of our four-hour drive to Sauvie Island, just outside Portland, Oregon. She did not believe, at first, we had reached our destination. But, it was, indeed, The Corn Maize, if not the one of our imaginings. I appreciated the punny name, at least. I’ve found no other subject provides more pun fodder than corn. Think about it, and you’ll see there’s more than a kernel of truth in that.
Lacey, her nine-year old daughter, and I marched to the entrance of the maze. I watched the light die in my friend’s eyes as she beheld the attraction. Even though it was early October, we’d come to the party too late. With tilted and tattered stalks, scattered empties and soggy napkins, it was as if we’d paid $7 each to see the aftermath of a rager in the cold light of day. Over the PA system, John Denver reminded us that life ain’t nothing but a funny, funny riddle. The maze guardian, a pudgy, pale teenager wearing a Nine Inch Nails hoodie and black skull cap, handed us a map to the maze. Lacey accepted it, but we agreed a map would spoil the fun.
The rain began in earnest as we initiated our maze experience. The dirt trail reminded me of a vat of hard-packed chocolate ice cream that was just beginning to melt on the surface. Lacey and I hobbled on the lumpy skating rink and tried to keep up with the child. We told the little girl to stay off the paths of cheaters who had left the trail to trample their own routes through the corn. We told her not to pick at the corn. We told her she couldn’t use the map. After an hour in the downpour, however, the rules changed. Lacey and I could see over the top of the stalks to the borders of the maze, but, to our surprise, we could not find a path that would lead us out. The map was cryptic and our patience thin. As Lacey and I struggled, I watched her daughter nibble at a low-hanging ear. I didn’t say anything to her as I drained my cold coffee into the soil.
It was time to go rogue. We saw a young couple launch off the designated path and into the corn. We followed behind them, guessing they, as well, sought release from The Maize. The shortcut dumped us back at the entrance, which was good enough for us. We trudged under a tent and waited out the worst of the storm. Then, we boarded the cow train, which was a series of painted cut-up barrels on wheels towed fast behind a tractor, driven by a man with a broad smile of gold teeth. I hadn’t imagined that happening. And, in the end, it had me grinning too, ear to ear.