Paul Andersen: The amazing maize maze |

Paul Andersen: The amazing maize maze

Ever wander for an hour and a half through a maze of cornstalks higher than an elephant’s eye? It might sound corny, but it also might make you think about the plight of farmers and ranchers in America.

The Ryden Ranch Maize Maze of New Castle is something of a marvel because “cornstalking,” if I may coin the term, is usually relegated to the Midwest. If you live on the flat tabletop of the Great Plains, wandering through corn rows may be one of your only diversions.

I’m a Midwesterner by birth, and some of my fondest childhood memories include visits to one of my Danish relative’s farms in Minnesota. Immense cornfields were the most magnificent mazes I ever had the pleasure of getting lost in.

Actually, it wasn’t a pleasure at all. When I was 7, I wandered into a cornfield where the stalks towered over me like redwoods. Within this vast horticultural marvel, I became disoriented and had my first real trauma of feeling totally lost. So much for my future as a farmer.

The Rydens, Charles and Angela, refer to their maize maze as a “cornstalk jungle.” Planted artfully to resemble a giant spider web, the cornfield maze has several miles of trails that lead circuitously to the center.

When we explored the maze last weekend, the kids from my son’s soccer team jogged most of it, eagerly looking for hidden treasure. The Rydens hide treats for kids, which is all the encouragement necessary for them to race through the maze like rats after cheese.

But the maze is about more than treasure. Hidden in the corn rows is a message. The Rydens are farmers and ranchers, and the maze tells about the plight of agriculture in America.

At each intersection of maze trails, a sign asks a question. Each answer designates a direction the cornstalker then follows. If you answer correctly, you will find the center of the maze.

The questions and answers reflect the importance of American farmers and ranchers, and the value of crops and livestock. The corn quiz provides a farm-friendly message for people who take farm products for granted.

The final question in the maze sums up the evangelical mission of the Rydens. Which industry is more important to our survival: tourism or agriculture? At that point, the food we eat ranks higher than the tourists we fleece.

The Ryden Ranch Maize Maze is located in the hills of the Grand Hogback, roughly equidistant between Silt and New Castle on Road 226. Charles and Angela will most likely be there to welcome you, answer your questions and share the history of their ranch.

The price of admission is marked in kernels of corn instead of dollars (they’ll tell you why), and there is a down-home, rustic atmosphere to the concession trailer at the edge of the field where the corn stalks rustle in the autumn breeze and blackbirds dart among the corn rows.

The Ryden’s biggest season is upon them now. Halloween draws diehard maze enthusiasts who blunder about in the maze by moonlight. Angela explained that last year they had to chase out the maze maniacs late on Halloween night just so they could get home to bed before sunrise.

Each year, the maze is planted in a new configuration because, after Halloween, the Ryden’s cattle are turned out into the field, reducing it to stubble. In this manner, the maze contributes both directly and indirectly to the agriculture industry.

Each year, novel planting configurations warrant return visits to the maze, just to see what the Rydens have come up with. They say it takes grit to be farmer or a rancher. It also takes imagination, even if it is a little corny.

[Paul Andersen is a new champion of cornography. His column appears every Monday]

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