In the a-maize-ing labyrinth
A woman at the entrance says, laughing, “I hope the questions aren’t as hard as last year.”
At the Maize Maze, on Buford Road behind New Castle, paths snake through a cornfield, junctions marked by signposts with questions about corn and agriculture. “Onion is a mild antibiotic and also can be used to treat athlete’s foot,” says one. True, go left; false, right.
By the dirt parking lot, a tarp roof covers a metal frame, anchored at one end by a rusty camper. Angela Ryden, a comfortable, smiling woman of 59, collects fees and answers questions from a Formica table. When the weather cools, she sits in the camper, a blanket hung over the absent door. The maze, now in its fifth year, is open from Sept. 1 to Halloween.
I’ve taken my sons three times. When Roy was in first grade, he and his friends Tanner and Tyler dashed ahead of me, delighted just to spot the signposts. They’d wait impatiently as I read aloud the questions, then burst forward again.
Last year, as my older son, Teddy, our friend Betsy and I puzzled, Roy raced away, looking at the answers, tacked on the back of each post. Walking, we could hear him galloping along several rows ahead.
Angela Ryden writes the 60-plus questions, collecting information all year. She is Western Region representative for the American Farm Bureau Women’s Committee, and also attends the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference. Ryden raised seven children, three biological and four adopted, and has 13 grandchildren. Over the years she also took in 120 foster children. Her husband, Charles, designs each year’s maze and plants the field according to a map taped across his tractor. This year the maze is shaped like a rose.
Some days see only a dozen visitors, others, between field trips and birthday parties, 100 or more. “If we can just cover our costs, we’re willing to do it for the community,” Angela says.
This year Roy and his friend Kimbrell, both third graders, still run between clues, but read and discuss them. Is the size of a football field, plus the end zones, equal to one acre or three acres?
One-fifth of the land in the United States is suitable for growing crops. True or false?
How many hours does it take a hen to produce an egg?
How many stomachs does a cow have, one or four?
I mumble, “I thought it was seven.”
In the center of the maze, walking on the dirt clods amid the clicking rustle of stalks, we have to backtrack.
“We’re over here!” Kimbrell says nervously when I lag.
In about an hour we emerge. “We only got lost two times,” Kimbrell says.
“We only got lost a lot,” Roy amends. Done correctly, the maze is about a mile.
On Halloween night, Angela says, spooks ” her 24-year-old son, Wesley, and his friends, in costume ” lurk here. Wesley has even lain down by the corn and grabbed people’s legs.
Says Roy, with glowing eyes, “That’d be awesome to do to somebody!”
“I want to come here at Halloween,” says Kimbrell, “and scare people!”
Once Angela’s nephew, 10, joined in, suited as a monkey. “A little 4-year-old boy got really upset by that,” Angela says. “Everywhere he went, seemed like the monkey was there. He came out yelling, ‘I hate that monkey!'”
One night, during a full moon, two girls from a church group, having completed the maze twice, insisted on trying without flashlights. “They got to the middle and started screaming and yelling,” recalls Angela.
The minister asked Charles, “How will we find them?” Charles answered resignedly, “With flashlights.”
Kimbrell and Roy ask immediately, “Did they get in trouble?”
“No. They sure got scared, though.”
Oh, but don’t worry. If you get lost, as another sign says, the cows will find you in November when they eat the stalks.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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