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Vermont Corn Maze

12/27/02 12:00AM By Allen Gilbert

By the time we reach the winter solstice, the sunny, warm days of the past autumn can seem like years, rather than months, away.

So it's with a certain distance that I think back on the gorgeous September afternoon that I spent tromping through the Vermont corn maze with my youngest son and his friend. I hadn't been to the maze before, and I didn't know what to expect. I was dazzled.

The maze covered five acres on a hillside in North Danville. The corn stalks were seven feet high. They had been planted and thinned to form a series of paths. Negotiated successfully, these paths led to observation points on bridges, a station where you could ring a bell, and additional, smaller mazes with special themes and challenges.

When you were through, you could buy some homemade corn chowder served by the local Scouts. You could visit a small science center. Kids could squeeze through plastic "gopher tunnels" that ran under a small playground. The entire scene was surrounded by fields, which were edged by forests, which were bounded by the White Mountains to the east and by the Green Mountains to the west.

It wasn't only being with my son and his friend that was so pleasant -- nor being with other families and groups of people having a whale of a time on a beautiful day in a gorgeous setting. It was also thinking about how the developers of the Corn Maze had so cleverly integrated agriculture, tourism, science, math, and fun.

I've wondered: Is this the future of Vermont farmland? A crop planted for both human amusement and bovine consumption? Kids lured to the fields with the enticement that they'll get lost in giant plants -- while actually being on a dairy farm, which fewer and fewer kids have experienced?

I remembered also that special explanatory signs at the maze challenged kids to think about the dependent webs binding plants, people, and cows. Is this how ecology can best be taught, I've asked myself? Several supplemental "perplexing puzzles" tested kids' spatial and math skills. Whimsical agricultural tourism to teach higher order thinking skills, I've mused?

Mike and Dayna Boudreau built their first maze on Dayna's family's dairy farm in 1999. They've created a new maze every year since then.

I'm already looking forward to the 2003 corn maze. I'd like to go during one of the weekend evenings in late summer when you can negotiate the maze under the stars. (Flashlights are recommended.) Then there are also Halloween spook evenings, in October. It's got to be fun to lose yourself amid rustling cornstalks on a crisp evening.

I'll give you a tip if you visit the maze next year. Buy the post card with the aerial view of the maze. You'll be impressed with the intricate patterns that you negotiate. But don't count on using the post card as a map. The photo is apparently altered, ever so slightly, to make sure that you don't cheat.

This is Allen Gilbert.

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