The last time I was lost in a cornfield, I earned a billion superficial skin nicks while running through the field's sharp-edged, leafy clutches. Though I'm now less prone to such boyhood misadventures, my 7-year-old daughter, Maeve, recently inspired me to take a fall corn-maze excursion in Western North Carolina.
Our first stop was "Castle in the Corn," a new fundraiser event for Eliada Homes for Children in Asheville. This maze squiggles its way through 10 acres of corn and offers three levels of difficulty: 2.2-mile Dragon's Lair, 1-mile Queen's Path, and 10-minute Kid's Maze. All feature checkpoint stations that let participants reorient themselves and punch out corresponding numbers on detailed handheld maps.
We zoomed through the first route, and although I laughed at my jokes about the dragons that must be out there waddling around through the wide rows, Maeve got bored quickly and raced on without me. While I stopped frequently to check the map for landmark clues, she scouted out dead ends and other labyrinth-like trickeries, yelling, "We found it!" each time she spied a checkpoint. After spending nearly two hours peeling back the mysteries of the first two mazes, Maeve went through the last one alone.
That little girl was having fun and wanting more, while I was wondering where the real adventure was. Everything just seemed so neat, safe and organized that I felt a little disappointed that we didn't have to slay some beast or fight even a couple of stray razor-sharp corn leaves.
So we headed to the Blue Ridge Corn Maze, which for the past 10 years has cropped up each fall on a six-acre field about four miles outside of Brevard. Taylor Mackey, an Appalachian native, greeted us at the ticket table, which sat under an overhang shelter that extended out from an open-doored, parked school bus with flat tires. He uses the space as an office and the table to welcome and orient visitors to the maze. In the background, fiddles dueled furiously under a big white tent where Mackey was staging a benefit for a local girl struggling with a severe and rare form of epilepsy.
One single, large, laminated map lay across the table, along with some creased clue cards, in case anybody wanted them. But when one visitor asked if there were maps to accompany the clue cards, Mackey said flatly, "What fun would that be." Another visitor, from a sizable group of tourists, stopped just before entering the corn and asked if a head count would be taken to make sure the whole group made it out. Mackey deadpanned that if they didn't make it out alive, he'd bury the bodies and sell off their cars.
With an awkward shift, and perhaps hoping the maze operator was joking, the group entered the field of "Corn-fusion," as Mackey likes to call it. Although he chuckled a little between jokes to visitors, the glint in his eye and no-nonsense cock of his head plainly expressed that all who entered would do so at their own risk and without any handholding.
When I looked around and called for Maeve to come on, she yelled from afar — along with the 10 other kids who sat waving at me from the passing hay-ride wagon. Once I finally fetched her — and the cake she had just won in the adjacent festivities — we entered the boggy field with caution. "This isn't like the other one, Daddy," she said.
Definitely not: I was fast getting scraped up by the drying corn stalks and tripped up by clods of dirt. Flashbacks to that scary boyhood run nipped at my consciousness. And I worried that the rain — apparently unceasing in WNC these days — might start up again and completely flood the already marshy field. As it was, the rows were ominously close together and dark. Even the shorter and easier route that we chose from the available two seemed tough, so when we finally saw the light of the exit, my heart lightened.
Maeve, on the other hand, went right back in. She found that she loved "mazing" so much that she would have done it over and over had I not forced her to depart. Asked which she liked best, Maeve replied that while both were great, the Blue Ridge was scariest. And if you don't take her word for it, take mine, and get a little stalked with fear.
Both Castle in the Corn ( www.eliada.org ) and Blue Ridge ( www.blueridgecornmaze.com ) will be open until the end of October. Each has a scheduled haunting for Halloween too. Admission at Eliada is $8 for adults, $5 for children (5-12), and free for kids under 5. Blue Ridge admission is $7 for ages 13 and up, $5 for children ages 6-12, and free to those under 5.
Jonathan Poston lives near Asheville.
Before entering the corn, a visitor asked if a head count would be taken to make sure the whole group made it out. Blue Ridge corn-maze owner Taylor Mackey deadpanned that if they didn't make it out alive, he'd bury the bodies and sell off their cars.