The Odd Phenomenon of the Wisconsin Corn Maze

Get in the car and drive at least 20 minutes. You’ll want to find a corn maze farm far enough away that you feel like you’ve left the city and reverted to something simpler, something agrarian, something like the way things used to be, with tractors. But you needn’t go farther than that. You’ll want to make it back by dinner.

Pack a sweatshirt, ‘cause there’s equal chances it’ll be warmer or colder than it looks. October sun is wily like that. If your spouse asks about bringing a coat, say yes.

Pay the people. Farming is hard for the farming family, especially when they spend a whole big chunk of land on parking and bouncy houses. Divide the total cost by the number of people you brought and the hours you manage to spend there. Cheaper than a movie.

Feed the animals. Goats, sheep, miniature horses, llamas, pigs, whatever they have. The creatures can’t possibly be hungry, they eat corn out of people’s hands all day, but they’re a hair closer to real wildlife than your cat or your dog, and we’re all supposed to share the planet, and the corn’s only a quarter.

When you’re in the actual maze, pretend you can’t hear the highway or see the snack trailer. Pretend you couldn’t just walk through 

the corn and out the side whenever you wanted. Imagine the sun sets, and something menacing lurks somewhere in the field with you, two rows away, ten rows away. If the way out obviously requires taking a left, take a right. You’ll get there eventually.

Appreciate the ingenuity. Corn mazes attract customers through tremendous lists of attractions. The pumpkin launcher took some serious engineering, but the hay pit is just a pile of old mattresses covered in hay, surrounded by hay bales. Vinyl gutters can be transformed into all sorts of impressive apparatuses, tennis ball tracks, rubber duck race courses, mini-golf holes. Kids will throw beanbags at just about anything, and if they’re filled with dry corn, even better.

Buy some gourds. You don’t eat them, and they look pretty strange, but a stack of them on your dining room table makes it feel like fall more than anything else you can do. And if they have pumpkins or apples, you might as well grab those, too. The Honeycrisps taste pretty good, and you’ll want to make a jack-o-lantern, you know you will, even if this year you’re pretty sure you won’t get around to it.

Take a big breath of the cool fall air. Consider the seasons and the passage time, if that’s the sort of thing you like. If not, buy a cup of cider. It's fall in Wisconsin, either way.

Eric RasmussenEssay, Wisconsin