Art Critics In The Corn Field


The water is back off of the road, I can take my Secret Ninja Route to work, construction crews are busily rebuilding the Vermont infrastructure, and I have word that the MOOver is back on the road between Wilmington and West Dover. All of this lifts and cheers my heart, and allows me to think past the stress and grief of the last week and consider the future.  The moderately immediate future, that is, as I also have word that the local Corn Maze is up, undamaged, and going to be ready for action next week.

While this maze opens on Labor Day, for me, Corn Maze Time is later in the fall, usually in October.  I need to have that chill in the air and the threat of an early nightfall to get my adrenaline pumping.  And why is it important that I should pump adrenaline for a Corn Maze?  Because in addition to being the most Mighty And Awesome Maze of All, this one also offers the Roasted Corn and Cider Donuts of the Gods. One requires an appetite to fully appreciate the experience.  The cider donuts are the stuff of local legends – the farm owns a funky little donut machine that involves a conveyor belt and makes tiny, perfect donuts.  These donuts are almost crispy on the outside, and moist and fluffy on the inside, and they take advantage of the product of the local apple orchards, and well, they’re an experience to be enjoyed, savored, and then looked-forward to for another year.  There’s something about eating corn with the peel still on and used as a handle, roasted right next to the cornfield of its birth, and slathered with fresh lime butter made with milk from the cow down the street.

It is heavenly.

It is also the icing on the cake:  the main event is our Corn Maze.

Before I go any further, I should probably supply some relevant information about my community.  That would be community in a broad sense, because the entire state in which I live is roughly the same size, in acreage and population, as the Houston metro statistical area.  Both are 10,000 and change square miles.  Houston has 5,946,800 denizens, Massachusetts has 6,547,629.  Or, as I have said in the past to my spouse, “Dude, my home town is the same size as your whole state.”  So the notion I have of “community” is a little different, too.  Here, I would consider our “community” to include the towns of Northampton, Williamsburg, Haydenville, Easthampton (but not South or Westhampton), Hadley, Hatfield, Whately, Sunderland, and Amherst (central, North, and South).  I might include South Hadley in there, also possibly Conway, Leverett, and Shutesbury.  This encompasses an area and population roughly the size of the district that supplied students to my high school outside of Houston.

So this “community” has a vastly interesting makeup:  there is a small but significant percentage of individuals with substantial inherited wealth (trust funds) who occupy their time with various charitable and artistic pursuits. There is a small but also significant percentage of professionals who are employed in larger cities, but who prefer to commute (or telecommute) from our Rustic Countryside.  There is a large percentage of individuals involved with agrarian pursuits – dairies, farms, and ranching.  While most of these people represent families who have been working the land in this area for three or four hundred years, there is a small but interesting overlap with group 1, above (the trust fund people).  In addition to this, there are five major colleges or universities, four of them with top-tier reputations, which means that the area is also loaded with Ph.D.s, techies, various white-collar support staff, and students – many of whom grow so fond of the area that they do not wish to leave when they graduate, and they move into the ranks of professionals, techies, farmers, or faculty.  On top of this, many of the trust funds, professors, and students were spawned in the rarefied culture pits of New York City.

All of this leads to a fascinating character for the “community” – which comes to its fullest and brightest fruition in the context of the Corn Maze.  This is not your typical Corn Maze, in the shape of a tractor, or an eagle, or the local high school mascot.  This is a Corn Maze for an area that isn’t sure whether it’s an artist colony, a farm community, or a college town.

The farm that gives us this Maze has been owned, according to their website, by the same family since 1720.  Nearly 300 years, yes, this family has been working this earth.  They are hardly a nest of neurotic aesthetes with artistic pretensions who moved into the area from the Upper West Side or Brooklyn and are imposing their notions of culture upon the rustic locals.  These people are are the rustic locals.

And yet…there is the Corn Maze.  It’s always a Maze with a goal.  There’s a scavenger hunt rolled into it – they have positioned various and sundry stations throughout the Maze, and typically, when you emerge successfully from the Maze with evidence of your accomplishment of the goals of the scavenger hunt, you are rewarded with your Very Own Pumpkin as a prize.  The hunts, as well, are not what one would expect.

My first visit to the Maze was a couple of years ago, and the owners had magically – I do not know how they do this, and after briefly investigating, I decided that I do not really want to know how they do this – created a huge maze with the artistic theme of The Odyssey.  Yes, the ancient Greek epic, written by Homer, the Homer, about Odysseus’ return from the Trojan Wars.  The story with Circe the sorceress who turned shipwrecked sailors into animals, the story where he had to be lashed to the mast to guide the ship through the Sirenes, the story with the Cyclops.  The Maze itself was an artistic rendering of the confrontation between Odysseus and the Cyclops.

It was even better in person!

The white dot there, in the middle of the Cyclops’ eye, is a camera obscura, one that you can actually walk into.  What you don’t see on this picture is the Mighty Potato Cannon, the thunking sounds of which punctuate any intrepid traveler’s journey through the Maze.

The scavenger hunt that year, as I recall, involved stopping at a variety of stations to answer a question about Greek Myths and get back in less than ten years.  Yes.  Demonstrate your knowledge of Greek Heroes and Gods of Antiquity, take home a pumpkin!

Even better was the one I went to last year.  This time – they change it every year – it was in the shape of Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup can.  And the scavenger hunt was a combination of Make Your Own Four-Color Process Print…and a quiz over art – several questions of which involved the presentation of two different prints and the question of which one of them was “art” (i.e., originally created as art).

It was unbelievably fun.  At one point, I found myself with my husband and our friend, joining a group of people who were totally unknown to us, and having an extended and fairly informed debate over one of the stations in the quiz.  All of a sudden it hit home that I was, in fact, standing out in the middle of a corn field, debating the Meaning Of Art with a group of strangers.  It was a moment of pure surreality, and one that let me know I had found a weird and unexpected spiritual home.

This year, we are told, the Maze will be in the shape of Noah Webster (of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary fame).  I have my suspicions about what the hunt will involve, and I can hardly wait for it.  Or for the Potato Cannon, and of course, for the Donuts and Corn of the Gods.


Now I'm all excited thinking about winning a pumpkin in the Corn Maze. They won't be ripe for another couple of weeks, so I'll tide everyone over with this picture I took at one of our fantastic local Farm Stands.


About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner will take you right there.

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