Sunday, December 06, 2009
The Corn Maze: Walking in Circles in Knightstown, Indiana
On a farm outside of Indianapolis, half-hidden down a gravel road past the pumpkin patch and the wire-and-wood cages of a few animals—a sleepy donkey, a pair of goats who stick their noses through the holes in the fence in hopes of being fed—there stands a vast corn maze.
I have never seen such a thing before but understand that things like corn mazes exist in the world. (I have seen Field of Dreams and can extrapolate from there.) A white-haired woman with a lolling Midwestern accent sells us tickets and hands us punch cards, explaining that if we are able to find ten hidden posts in the maze—each one with a different-shaped hole puncher strung to it—we will win ourselves a free hot dog. This sounds like an admirable goal, except I have just eaten a hot dog, and Carrie is a vegetarian. The hot dog itself, too—it was so big that I was embarrassed to eat it in a crowd—didn't exactly spur me toward corn maze success.
So that's one thing. The second thing is that I am confused about how the maze works.
I understand that finding the hidden posts in the maze could be fun, and could take a while, and could add some spice to otherwise conventional maze-wandering on a burnished Saturday afternoon in autumn, somewhere outside Indianapolis, Indiana. But I do not realize, not until we have entered the maze and have weaved around it for the better part of an hour, that this is, in fact, the whole point of this particular corn maze.
When I realize this, I look up at Carrie, who is standing with the green stalks towering over her blond head at the intersection of two identical-looking paths, contemplating each one with a serious look on her face.
“Wait a minute,” I say, realization dawning slowly. “You mean, the whole point of this maze isn't to get out of it?”
“No,” says Carrie. “I don't think so. The point is to find the posts. You exit the maze where you entered it.”
I am crestfallen. Not because everything I have ever learned about mazes—and their obvious and universal purpose—is suddenly proving untrue. But also because I feel somehow cheated of the opportunity to walk out of this maze in triumph, arms raised like an Olympic sprinter, having solved the whole damn thing.
It is also worth mentioning that I am dressed inappropriately for a corn maze, that my trench coat and boots and overstuffed suede purse leave me ill-equipped to deal with the slippery mud on the paths, the stinging cold that settles as the sun falls lower in the sky. Also, I look ridiculous.
With the shifting of our end goal, our strategy doesn't change, but our attitude does. Instead of working to find the posts—after two hours, we have found a mere four out of the ten—we suddenly just want to get out and get back to the car.
As we walk, Carrie explains that the maze stays open after sunset, that kids do it in the dark with nothing but glow sticks to guide them along. (Flashlights are forbidden, presumably because the maze staff uses those to clear the maze at the end of the night.) The thought terrifies me, makes me hustle around corners faster, contemplate each turn less and less.
Carrie and I take turns leading. When I'm in front, I decide that I know what I'm doing, eying each intersection as though I can determine, just by looking, which path is the smarter choice. I invent rules about the supposed characteristics of dead ends (“The dirt looks less trampled!”), and paths that continue through (“There's lots of people over there, so let's follow them.”).
I am wrong nearly every single time.
At one point, we find ourselves at the farthest reaches of the maze, where it presses against a tall line of trees. The paths are less distinct here, the rows mowed less neatly. Garbage litters the paths. In some places, the maze is trampled through, leaving armfuls of stalks bent over onto the paths. Back where we bought our tickets from the white-haired woman, country music blared through an enormous speaker perched on top of her booth. We didn't realize it until we hit this sad, poorly-cared-for corner, but this wasn't just about the woman's personal preference for Rascal Flats. The music helps to orient the people in the maze. The end is the beginning. To get home, follow the music. We realize this, of course, only when the music is so quiet that we can barely hear it, when the breeze whispers louder through the orange leaves.
We are, we realize, a long way from getting out.
The thing that arises, then, isn't quite fear, but I am totally unnerved by the idea: The puzzle is unsolvable. Aimless walking—a thing that could get you killed in real wilderness, where there is no flashlight-wielding staff on duty and no iPhone app to help you—is the only choice. Getting lost is the only way to get found.
By the time we find the exit—the entrance—I am breathless and stiff with cold, and caked in mud. We never found the last two posts and therefore are not entitled to hot dogs. I can see my own breath, but something else shocks and scares me: At the sight of the open sky, I feel so dizzy that I nearly topple over. Maybe it is the sudden shift in perspective, all that vastness after seeing it only through the neat rows of corn, or maybe it is my brain catching up to what my body has been doing for the last four hours. I feel like a little kid who's been twirling in circles, ignorant to the physical repercussions until suddenly, the twirling stops but the sensation doesn't.
Of course, we were never truly lost. The staff at Boondocks Farm, somewhere outside of Indianapolis, is undoubtedly skilled at handling all kinds of maze-related freakouts. Kids who get sick halfway through and teenagers who just get bored and adults who get panic-y. I am sure they can pluck anyone out at any given moment, can swoop in for a rescue. I am not sure, however, after all my spinning in circles, all my dizzy contemplation, what they could have done for me.
Go there: Boondocks Farm is located at 8001 South Grant City Road in Knightstown, Indiana. It's about 35 miles from Indianapolis, off of highway I-70 (exit #115). The seasonal corn maze costs $7.