by Alysse Robin
Hudson Valley corn has a special spot in my heart. I grew up in the Valley and have warm memories of sitting in the heat of the afternoon, in the golden glow of day, as my mother and I slowly ate ears of salted, buttery corn at the kitchen table—corn on the cob. That was our comfort food—one that we enjoyed together as we chatted about friends and life. A food to bond over. And my love of corn continued to be simple and beautiful for many years. Then, the relationship changed as I helped build a family tradition around a more titillating side of corn—the corn maze.
Seeing painted wooden farm-side signs boasting farm fun, including corn mazes, is a welcoming sign of fall. I’m fortunate to have a lot of family in the area, and when we get together and go to the farms we take it all in. We do the pick-your-own apples, the hay rides, the jumpy bouncy things, face painting, pumpkin picking, cider drinking, listening to some music. Really anything there is to offer, we’re there—getting to the essence of the true fall farm experience. But no activity bonds our family and creates memories quite like the corn mazes.
Granted, our family is not typical. A typical family may enjoy a corn maze; they may even enjoy it very much. Walking through the tall, dry stalks of corn. Taking in the beauty of the region with friends and family, while challenging yourself to memorize your steps. Letting your mind explore possibilities of getting lost or stuck and creating a real corn maze adventure. I like to picture an areal view of a huge corn field with me running through the maze like a mouse, not getting any closer to solving this geographic/geometric mystery. Yes, most would enjoy a good corn maze. But my family, we more than enjoy it. It’s a true love.
I think the only way to illustrate the magic of our corn maze experience is to try to describe my family’s typical corn maze visit.
After we have picked bags full of apples, sucked on some honey sticks, and pet the farm animals, we are on our way to the entrance of the corn maze. There are around 10 or 15 of us usually, ranging in ages from 6 months old to, well, let’s just say adult. At the entry of the maze we split up into teams—a few adults a few kids, a balance of men and women. Then we decide who is going to be hiding, who is capturing, and where jail is…and our game of Manhunt begins!
At this point, our worlds transform from that of a happy family in the Rondout Valley to a small posse of warriors who band together to try and survive a battle in unfamiliar territory. My group is hiding. We run into the cornfield. Some adults partner with the smaller kids, others run off on their own. We have 20 seconds until the chase begins. Sometimes, there are opportunities to jump from one part of the maze to another, through a break in the thick rows of corn. Those opportunities create the lead I need. Once I feel certain that I am out of earshot from my predators I crouch down, with my hands on the moist, muddy ground. My heart is pumping with adrenaline, as I hear some corn rustling in the distance. Slowly the sounds are moving closer. I try to see if it’s someone from my team, the enemy’s team, or an innocent civilian. I can’t tell. They come closer. I get ready to run. It’s my brother-in-law: a foe! He turns, though, at the last second. Whew.
I decide to go a bit closer toward the jail, to make sure none of my teammates are stuck there waiting for a rescue. I move low and quiet through the maze toward the jail. All of a sudden I hear “I see one!” real loud and my nephew starts running full speed toward me! I take off, running for my life past the rows and rows of corn. I see the jail; my son and husband are in there. I must get there and tag them before my nephew reaches me…and he’s gaining fast. When I’m about 10 steps from the jail, with victory in sight, my sister-in-law leaps out of the row next to me and tags my arm. “NO!” I shout as I fall down by my husband’s feet. I was so close. Now all we can do is wait in jail, taunting the jail keeper.
The hunt continues. We get tagged out, brought back in, escape illegally (no one really likes this, but it happens), and then eventually, after our sweaters have been stripped off and piled discretely nearby, our entire team is stuck in jail with no one left to rescue us. We are captives, and have lost all hope for freedom. Defeated, but not deflated, we look forward to our turn for revenge. A two-minute breather, then game two, switch sides.
The corn maze gives us that transformative release that seems so hard to achieve through our average day. It is an escape from any stress, any thoughts of day-to-day details. Without thinking about it, the entire meaning of life shifts into survival as we trust our animal instincts and rely on our senses to protect ourselves.
We leave the farm exhausted, but invigorated. No hard feelings, only cheap shots as we reminisce about our wartime stories over our farm-fresh dinner that evening. Corn is more than a healthy local food that helps characterize our fabulous farming communities. To me, it is a part of a great life. It is the basis for many sweet memories.
Get out there this fall and make some farm fresh memories.