Of Cornfields and Common Sense

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys…
—Willie Nelson

This is where they walked, swam, hunted, danced and sang,
Take a picture here, take a souvenir 

—R.E.M., “Cuyahoga”

I’m sure you’ve each and all heard about it by now. I’ve seen it on CNN and the big Boston stations.

There is a small farm near here, sells apples and pumpkins. And they have a corn maze. Named Connor’s Farm. Well, a few days ago a family (inexplicably including a three-week-old baby) got so lost in the corn maze that they felt the need to call 911. They sent a K-9 unit from the Police Dept. who quickly found the family 25 feet into the corn. Twenty-five feet.

Some facts to ponder. This was the last night of the Topsfield Fair, and enormous local agricultural fair. This corn maze is located almost on top of the road many people use to get there. Along this road are, of course, telephone poles and power lines. Finally, at the back of the maze is a line of tall trees, marking its rear border.

Willie’s advice might have been to not let your babies grow up to be cowboys, but here’s my version of his advice: please, please parents, don’t raise your children to be this clueless when they grow up.

It saddens me a little that in just a few hundred years, we’ve gone from our ancestors crossing the plains and their associated adventures, on their way down the Oregon Trail, to a family that can’t find its way out of a cornfield at dusk.

It’s not as if corn is as impenetrable as a thick wall of titanium. Can’t find your way out the paths? Fine, just walk through the corn to the landmarks you can see. Or simply in a straight line toward the cars you hear. Did I mention that there are bridges inside that rise above the corn, so that you can see your way around? Or that I visited this very maze just last week, so I know whereof I speak?

I remember as a kid running through whole cornfields with my friends, cutting through the rows. I also remembering picking corn and selling it as a way to make summer money. And I remember walking—completely without panic—through fields of weeds twice as high as my head. Sure, I grew up in the country, I’m used to the accursed corn. But before a person panicked and called the police, don’t you think they’d have enough common sense to figure a plan of action out?

Enough about them. Let’s talk about you and me, and our children. What is the number one lesson that can keep them from this situation, someday? Landmarks. Learning to keep track of where they are by recognizing landmarks. Like a gunslinger in the old days who had the presence of mind to sit with his back to a wall, and his face toward the door, our kids need to learn throughout their childhood to be aware of their surroundings. Not to scare them about what might happen. Just the opposite. To put their minds at ease that they are in control of the situation through repeated exposure to their parents calmly taking them through what might seem to them to be a “lost” sort of situation. Not that I’m the great exemplar, but I’ll often, on walks, ask my daughter if she knows where she is, and if she says she doesn’t, I’ll little by little start to point out and remind her of things we’ve seen before, perhaps on the way out into the woods. Often, she’ll be leading me out of the woods after a few of these reminders.

And you know, in a more abstract way, this could also be a lesson about goals. About seeing where you want to go and ignoring obstacles that keep you from getting there. But that’s a story for another time. Now get lost!



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