Corn Maze

categories: Cocktail Hour


Good, Clean Fun

Saturday night [October 9, 2010] I was watching college football late, that great back-and-forth fourth quarter between USC and Stanford, two teams I don’t care much about, but a great game (I always root for the underdog when I’ve got no other particular loyalty, so USC, and they lost in the last seconds…).  Around 11:00 or 11:30, I heard an engine rumbling outside on our rural road here in rural Maine.  Nothing unusual in that, particularly, and the football game was exciting, so.  Our house is close to the road in the old style—short driveway means short shoveling—and people are always stopping for one reason or another, maybe a pee on the little-travelled road, maybe a peek at the neighbor’s bison, maybe a make-out break, maybe anything.  Saturday night and all that, teens cruising, grownups acting like teens, whatever.  I heard a bottle smash and looked out—nothing to see.  So trotted out there in time to glimpse a big pickup rumbling off, flicking its lights back on.

Well, a beer bottle in autumn, no big deal—in the morning I’d go clean it off the road or wherever it ended up.  Early to bed, which for me is like 1:00 (I’m a night writer these days), and early up for an 8:30 soccer clinic put on by the college (University of Maine at Farmington) at their beautiful athletic fields down on flood plains of the Sandy River.  Elysia was very excited and ate breakfast in record time, got her reversible jersey on and leggings she could roll up as the day warmed.  She takes pride in putting her sneaks and shin-guards on in the car on the way: more efficient than nervous, not like some little kid!

Anyway, start the car, back out of our parking area, which is right on the road and all we really have for a driveway, easy in winter (I think I already said).  The van as I pulled away made the strangest noise, like it was throwing gravel on a dirt road, but not exactly: clinkety-tinkle-clack.  Total mystery.   Listen to that, I said.  And Elysia heard it too.  Then: “Oh!” she cried, “The window’s smashed back there!”

Yes, true.  The right way-back window was gone, little black bits of safety glass dripping off the hinges, bigger chunks hanging on like jewelry.  I knew immediately what had happened.  That truck the night before.  And it didn’t move me much—just the quick thought that I’d have to call the glass place Monday, or see if mechanic Gary had a window in his vast junker web.  No particular rancor for the vandals.  I guess I’m just that age: who cares what the rotten kids of the forest do?  Elysia, too: no big deal, and we just headed on into town and to the fields at the college, lots of extra wind on the chilly morning.

Elysia’s clinic was great—right on the same pitch where we’d watched part of a college rugby match the day before! She’d loved the scrum particularly—“It looks like a creature!”  And she loved the general bashing around, fascinated by the spectacle of young men falling on their faces, asses, elbows, everyone limping and shouting and performing inexplicable tasks with an inexplicably misshapen ball.  The kid is 10 years old all of a sudden and abruptly loving sports, wonderful worlds opening up.  (Ballet’s still first, don’t get her wrong.  After that, jazz, tap, clogging, contemporary.  Then sports.  But one of her babysitters is on the UMF woman’s rugby team—they once played an exhibition game in their high-school prom dresses!  So you see it’s possible to be both princess and warrior, Daddy.)  We got home that afternoon (the car window still whole…) and she asked if we could watch football.  Football!

“Yes, of course, hunny.”

“I just want to see some tackling.”

The clinic next morning, this morning, was put on by the University of Maine at Farmington soccer teams, a community service, more college kids on the field than little kids, with games like “Sharks and Minnows” and “Tunnel of Doom.”  I watched for a while, noting that the college kids weren’t the sweet, gentle, coachy teachers we were used to but really children themselves, often forgetting not to swear around the fourth graders (no big deal for my money, fuck this and shit on that), also forgetting not to kick the ball as hard as they could into the crowd of kids, also full of heart and funny jokes and good humor, also aggression: “Get hungry, Elysia!”

“I ate already!”

Or, later: “Let’s scrimmage!”

To which, Elysia says, her friend Phoebe exclaimed, “I thought this was soccer!  Why are we gonna play cribbage!”

Beautiful fall morning and chilly.  I was a soccer dad, now, and held my head high: perhaps the politicians would start to take me into account!  I took a long walk, several miles in a loop upstream along the Sandy River, immediate treasure in the form of a stout beaver stick to use as a walking pole and machete to use whacking my way across a wildy grown-in field (note: dried tansy smells great but is very hard to walk through after the first twenty yards or so), song sparrows leaping up surprised out of their seed-gleaning projects, vultures above, crows in the trees, river gulls, Mount Abraham up the valley far distant, Day Mountain closer, every tree in color, milkweed fluff, sumac in flower, hay equipment idle, the river glinting, hard breeze in the face, slant October light.

After the Rugby game yesterday, we’d gone home and gotten Elysia’s mom (who’d gotten a rare morning alone at home) and then to the twins’ to pick them up and off to the York Family Farm corn maze.  Or Corn Maize, as they spell it for fun.  (Sandy River Farms.) It’s a, like, ten-acre section of a huge cornfield, planted double-crisscross and groomed by maze professionals all summer into a complicated pattern, three miles of paths all tangled together into the Hannaford’s Supermarket logo, even better than a crop circle, and obviously made by aliens.  Run for your lives!  No, no, the farm contracts with sponsors (“We support local farms”) and charges entrance fees and it’s a good little autumn operation, the ancestral farmstead as “agritainment” as their literature says happily.  That is, they’re making ends meet any way they can manage.  You enter and on the windy, perfect blue spectacular day the stalks rattle eleven feet high and the sun beams in and ears of corn whap your kidneys and within minutes you are completely lost, but crossing paths with gangs of teens and many other families and older folks abandoned and toddlers wee, all grinning with mild panic.

Some three hours later, our gang finally manage to reemerge, the kids exhilarated, the adults wiped.  The complete maze with no wrong turns is ¾ mile.  Which in our confusion we covered probably five times over.  The only way we got out was to luck into meeting up with a “Corn Cop,” this one a young woman who trotted us through all the stations in order, no missteps.  “I do this 12 times a day,” she said.

“Eight miles,” I said, using my excellent math skills.

I kept thinking of her and her kindness and humor, this country girl six feet tall (at least) along with the juxtaposed thought of the van’s smashed window, which though I wasn’t taking too hard, had come lend a bit of a dark flavor to my walk along the Sandy River this morning.

After clinic we headed home, van full of breeze.  The driveway had a pretty puddle of glass reflecting the fractured sky nicely.  Also a whisky bottle in fragments, but missing the neck.  So of course I pictured some kid whacking the window of my car with his empty quart, better results than perhaps expected and back in his pal’s truck still hold the bottle’s neck, not twenty feet from where I was sitting watching USC perform the penultimate miracle of the game (Stanford performed the next and final miracle, a huge drive with like a minute to go in the game, damn: always bet against my hunches, friends).  Twenty feet from my chair!  Myself plainly lit and visible from outside!  Smash! They didn’t target the good car, our much newer Subaru.

Why us?

Why the old crappy van?

How long did he carry the broken neck of his bottle?

This afternoon in the fullness of time I finally called the sheriff’s office and pretty soon a town cop arrived, tall guy with gravitas who came to the back door.  He said he’d already had a look at the car.  He wanted me to have a look with him, however.  Out at the scene of the crime, he took my information, said (very seriously), “These things happen.  Not much we can do about it.  But if they keep at it, gradually we can sometimes get enough pieces of information, you know.  So it’s not useless you called or anything.”

He tapped the “Maine Women Vote Obama” sticker on the back-back door with his pencil, tapped the Obama/Biden sticker other side, seemed on the verge of saying something, didn’t say it.  I’d thought the same thing, didn’t say it either.  Cops and Journalists both need evidence for such hypotheses.  But we looked at one another–all those angry people out there somewhere behind our eyes–both shrugged.  Another thing I didn’t tell him is my idea for a lawn sign in this political season (and in this deeply economically depressed area), actually a bunch of little lawn signs in a row like Burma Shave signs (we’ve got some 400 feet road frontage, nicely mowed when I’m in the mood):











Of course, it would just turn into a nightly demolition derby, or worse.  Still, it’s a nicer sentiment than my bumper sticker idea: “Voting Republican?  Are you rich or stupid?”

Anyway, I cleaned up all the glass, then used duct tape and a 50-pound sunflower-seed bag (woven plastic, like the material in those blue tarps) to cover the gaping hole where the window had been.  Looks kind of pretty, color painting of a sunflower and two cardinals on a white background.  Should make a satisfying snapping noise in the highway wind before it goes to tatters, an impressive flapping noise like my third-extra Hank Aaron baseball card pinned into the spokes of my hot red bike in 1959, up and down the big hill on Springwater Lane, Mr. Aaron early in his career when you didn’t know all the records he’d eventually break, all the successes, wow.

  1. Peter Peteet writes:

    Nice to hear of fall’s appearance;here in Atlanta we are stuck in endless summer with highs in the 80’s and code orange air pollution.Nicer still to read the tackling of politics woven within the fabric of fall,the image of the sportsman/writer contrasting with the man disappearing into the dark in a large unlit pickup,clutching the broken neck of a whiskey bottle.The Maize/maze,a grin of mild panic, [that line about how] it didn’t move me much.It’s not useless you called or anything,I will be so bold as to ask that you write in the million letter march here
    as I think a million letters can be as effective as a million Burma-Shave signs.
    Thanks for the words and images,you are a gentleman and a scholar-also a princess and a warrior.That snapping sound’s a freak flag I believe-sunflower and two cardinals-let it fly.

  2. Mike Land writes:

    Loved it Bill. Sharing it on my own page, once I figure out how.

  3. Valerie Lane writes:

    This is great Bill. Enjoyed it a lot. I love the signs. I’m not rich or stupid so I guess I’m voting Democrat. This is a very thought provoking piece politically actually. It comes back to you as the minutes roll by.

  4. Susan Pearsall writes:

    Beautiful essay, Bill. It vividly captures the glory of fall while highlighting the sinister nature of this political season. I’d rather see people working to get out the vote than throwing bottles anonymously on dark country roads. Cowards!