Life Lessons in a Corn Maze

Corn mazes are synonymous with ‘chaos.’ The never-ending sea of stalks. The turns that turn into more turns. But before you step into the grain this season, here’s something to consider: Losing yourself in a corn maze can give you a renewed outlook on life.

“The idea,’’ said New England-born psychology professor Jim Goodwin, “is that there are no easy paths. You have to persevere through all of it — the good and the bad.’’

Indeed, much like life, corn mazes are about the journey. There are false starts and missed opportunities. Something that once seemed promising can turn out to be a dead end. And, just when you feel like giving up, they can surprise you — whether it be with a new perspective or an unforeseen way out.

One confusing corner of the corn maze at Coppal House Farm in Lee, N.H. —Coppal House Farm
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“There are a lot of twists and turns, and there are some things that seem unfair,’’ Goodwin said. “You may be working as hard as you can, but you still become lost.’’

It wasn’t always this way. Believe it or not, 17th century mazes were seen as a calming experience. Some even saw them as a way to meditate. But then again, those mazes consisted of a single snake-like passage that looped from start to end.

Today, mazers face a more confusing path. Though many are seeking a fall zen experience, their emotions can sometimes take the helm.

“Being outside in a cornfield, with the fall colors and so on, that’s all very nice and romantic,’’ said Brett Herbst, a longtime maze designer who spins labyrinths throughout New England. But corn mazes can bring out the worst in people who have a need to be in control.

“Many see mazes as a problem to be solved,’’ he said. “Rather than savoring the moment, they are overwhelmed by the situation.’’

Sometimes, a youthful exuberance is what it takes to move forward. After all, Herbst explained, it’s a lot about attitude and the way you handle the task.

“Kids don’t second guess themselves,’’ he said. “They just go in and explore it, and it’s a lot easier for them to find their way.’’

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For one Massachusetts family, even the children couldn’t save them. A couple with their 5 year-old child and 3-week old baby were so disoriented in a Danvers corn maze three years ago, they called the police.

“It was an unusual 911 call,’’ said the maze’s owner Bob Connors, laughing. “The police came with a K-9.’’

The kicker? The parents and kids were just 25 feet from the street.

Like the family in the corn maze, it’s easy to become blinded by our choices. Yet most mazes, Connors noted, are made for people to flounder in. Some are even designed for people to get lost.

Go back in time at this year’s Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville, Vt., which features a Velociraptor. —The Great Vermont Corn Maze

Take, for example, the Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville, Vt. It’s an eight-acre voyage of corn and twists and turns in the shape of a Velociraptor. There are bridges and tunnels that purposely make the path confusing, said owner and creator Mike Boudreau. So you’re meant to backtrack, ponder, and lose your way.

“In our maze, you actually have to solve it,’’ Boudreau said. Much like life, “there isn’t any map.’’

And if you’re really panicked? Breathe in deep and don’t take it too seriously, the farmer implored.

“Remember you’re in a cornfield’’ is Boudreau’s stalkside wisdom. “It may seem daunting, but there’s always a way out.’’

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