The sign told me, in no uncertain terms, to “get lost!”
Normally, an order like that would tick me off a little (or a lot). But in this instance, I grinned and thought, sounds like fun!
I was about to enter my first corn maze.
If you don’t happen to know what a corn maze is, let me explain. (If you do, I’ll be quick.) Basically, you start with a large cornfield, and then you cut away cornstalks to create paths that follow a maze pattern. Sounds simple enough. But how they do it, I’d love to know.
The “they” in this case are the folks at the McNab Corn Maze and Produce Farm, located in Ladysmith, a half-hour drive south of Nanaimo.
The McNabs created their first maze in 2002; it was not a smashing success.
Undaunted, they kept at it, and the 7-acre maze now attracts thousands of visitors every fall. Each year features a new pattern, and this year’s pattern pays tribute to Canada’s 150th birthday, with a huge 1-5-0 and the outline of a maple leaf.
A Path Less Travelled
I stepped into the maze and immediately faced two paths. Which one to take? It seemed like a classic “the road not taken” situation. Left seemed like the right choice—I have no idea why—and off I went.
In short order I found myself following a meandering course, with inevitable “forks in the road” and cornstalks 6 to 7 feet high on either side of me. I wouldn’t say I was lost, but I definitely had no clue where I was going.
But what I did have was a mission: find the four hidden stations.
When I purchased my entrance ticket (a modest $8), the cashier pointed out the four small symbols along the right side of the ticket and explained that each one matched a station hidden somewhere in the maze—that is, in the 7-acre maze. At each station was a hole puncher, so you could punch each symbol as you found it. (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: find one station, punch all four holes, and tell everyone you found them all. But that would be cheating. It would be dishonest. And the lie would weigh on your conscience…)
I quickly realized that the hidden stations idea was a great—and frankly, necessary—gimmick. This maze wasn’t about finding your way to the center or making your way from one end to the other; this maze pattern was a few numbers and a leaf. Without having something to look for, all corn mazers would literally just be wandering around…and wandering…and wandering… And that would get old rather quick (and repeat visitors would be few, I’d wager). But if you have a goal, if you’re on a search, then you have a purpose. And chances are you’re not going to want to leave the maze defeated, with stations unfound and symbols unpunched. I know I didn’t.
And so the hunt was on.
“Have you seen the squash?”
I quickly learned to eavesdrop on people’s conversations anytime I heard the word “station” or “symbol.” I also glanced at people’s tickets as they walked by to see what holes were punched and noted what direction they were coming from. (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong: these strategies aren’t cheating. I was simply being aurally and visually alert.)
After lots of wandering, backtracking, pure luck, and outright asking people where they had found that impossible-to-find last station (okay, that was cheating), I managed to find all four. And it was weirdly satisfying—even with the assistance, because, really, getting told a symbol is “over that way” isn’t a whole lot of help when you’re surrounded by cornstalks. After more than two stubborn hours, mission impossible had turned into mission accomplished.
Which meant it was time to go buy a pumpkin.
Pumpkins, Goats, and… Oh, My!
After a quick trip to the pumpkin patch, I started to make my way out. But as an animal lover, I had to check out the critters first.
The McNab farm is a working farm, with the livestock you’d expect to find, such as pigs, chickens, goats, and…an emu. An emu, you say? Yup, one of those big feathered birds with beady eyes and a dubious disposition. I wasn’t sure if it was a pet…or destined to be Christmas dinner. I only know that when it approached me at the fence, I had no inclination to reach in and pet it.
There and Back Again
All in all, it was a very fine day—how can a day spent walking under a beautiful blue sky be anything less? And I imagine I’ll be back next year to stroll among the stalks, randomly perhaps, but not aimlessly. For as author J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote:
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
Sounds to me like he took a walk through a corn maze.