Get Lost in a Field This Fall

Christopher Dyrland-Marquis  |   Friday Oct. 1st, 2021

It had been hours since the sun had set, and we had been searching for what seemed like an eternity, but not one member of our group had come any closer to finding the corn maze’s end. In the pitch of night that had fallen over the field of visitors, all we could see from the dim flashlights of our phones were the endless stalks of dried corn that spindled high above our heads. Like something out of a horror movie, the friend group I had entered this labyrinth with slowly separated—two at a time, as they gradually investigated different paths that had been ingeniously cut into the rustling field. The frosty air misted out from my excited breath as I called out for directions, but I soon found myself wandering alone and lost on paths that I knew I had visited already. I began to think I would never make it out of the maze and would need to call for help. At that moment, faint hooping and shouts of advice led me to a small opening in nearby, furrowed corn. How long had I walked past this? I pushed through, but saw only another passageway leading deeper into the field. Would I ever be able to make it out of here?

Earlier that day, my friends and I had decided that our October had been a bit too quiet, and in order to make the most of our time in the amicable, but fleeting autumn weather, we needed to pursue one of the season’s most entertaining recreational activities: the ever-exciting, corn maze! If you have ever been to such an event, you probably know what to expect: a main attraction hewn from a few acres of corn surrounded by various other autumn activities—such as apple bobbing, hay rides, and square dancing. The audience that had arrived for this particular endeavor was especially diverse, with the maze’s side attractions garnering just as much attention from families who were out for a fun evening, as couples that had decided an energetic evening of puzzling mishaps and carnival-themed games would be the perfect atmosphere for romance.

Not all mazes are built the same, however. In the Bozeman area, residents have the opportunity to choose between the popular and ever-traditional cornfield maze, or ones built out of hay bales stacked on top of each other and set into rows and unique shapes. Newcomers to the activity will find that annual themes often permeate the farms that run these annual get-togethers: it’s not uncommon for aerial patterns and images to emerge from the fields as they are cut for the event. On top of this, many hosts pride themselves on the crisp images they can carve out of their interactive and festive displays! These wonderful folks keep community corn mazes alive and well in the Gallatin Valley, and they tend to return again, year after year.

And, for those who might desire a more thrilling experience, don’t disregard these agricultural shindigs yet! Many drop their family-friendly theme in-or-around the last week of October for a spooky, haunted maze that’s sure to get your blood pumping. Often, costumed staff will slink and slide within the mazes themselves to give any unwary guests a scare worth remembering. If you happen to find yourself with a bit of time and a desire to get into a creepy mood, nothing beats the feeling of running from Halloween hooligans in a twisting web of fun!

When the group I followed decided to find an engaging activity to fill our time, we had encountered a lot of difficulty in deciding what to do. While a few people had been in favor of a night on the town to see the latest movies that had been released, others found themselves more interested in taking advantage of the changing seasons to go outside and appreciate the final throes of a fall that seemed to rapidly progress into cold weather. Additionally, a few friends suggested supporting the local hot springs and enjoying both a hot, relaxing swim and the crisp breeze to prevent overheating at the same time. For the most part, however, the majority of recreationalists wanted something they could do outside to stimulate their mind and excite their senses. After some argument, we eventually decided on a corn maze, and all piled together into a vehicle before taking off.

One quick jaunt down a local highway later, we found ourselves outside of the corn maze and realized that many community members had shared our inspiration to get out and enjoy the fall weather. A line of attendees stretched behind the field’s entrance, and we realized in horror that we had forgotten to bring along money to cover the entrance fee! Our group quickly huddled together in concern to try and pool our resources together. Luckily, most everyone had brought along their wallets—most with a bit of cash in them—and we were able to cover the costs of the embarrassing few (myself included) who had forgotten to take any money along to a local community event!

While most corn mazes cost a small entrance fee to participate in the community event, the environment can’t be beat. Wide varieties of visitors patrol the grounds, from giddy and rambunctious teenagers to couples enjoying the quality time they can spend with each other and their children. The gathering often attracts people from all over the Bozeman community and creates a communal space accepting of everyone’s background. Such an inclusive environment makes it an incredibly fun place to be! Inside, you can see how the prospect of a challenging, interactive puzzle brings camaraderie between friends, tension between those with conflicting ideas of how it should be navigated, and frustration about how that one friend has been lost inside the cornfield for at least half-an-hour.

Once entering the event, we were immediately impressed with how much work had gone into it. An employee had been positioned by a bucket of glow sticks and stood nearby, passing them off to customers who approached the maze’s entrance, decorations hung everywhere, and the staff had set up large observation stands to supervise the crowd threading its way through the corn. In the gathering darkness, all we could see around the maze was the bob of technicolor glow sticks in the excited hands of groups that would loudly jostle and joke with each other and the bright white pinpoints of light that emanated from most of their phones.

We braved the entrance into the maze and quickly saw what all the hubbub was about: They always look so easy from the top, but why do they seem so much more difficult when you find yourself inside one? Each member of our group took turns confidently pointing in the direction of an opening within the field, and led us all through a gap into another corridor within the field. Sometimes, it would lead even further into the complicated puzzle! Most times however, it would lead to a dead end, and the self-appointed “leader” would find themselves at the end of a new line, as everyone would about-face, and repeat the process of confident “navigating.”

Along the way, we would pass by other throngs of equally discouraged groups—some who’s gaunt faces looked as if they had been in the maze much longer than we had—and we began to routinely stumble across familiar pathways that we had traveled by before. Frustratingly, corn maze creators have wily methods of sowing self-doubt, and it seems narrow paths that intersect and double-back on each other are an unfortunately common trait. Once we began disagreeing on directions in which to take the whole group, we began to split up, as confidence overpowered reason and we were left alone—or with a friend—listening to hear status reports on the success or failure of the others’ expeditions.

I soon found myself surrounded by the confused shouting of my scattered friends. Little by little, I managed to maneuver myself through close spaces and hidden turns, until their cheers of relief started to float over the field as they began to find the maze’s end and celebrate their victory over the labyrinth. As the last one to cross the final threshold out of the field, I was met by revels and cheers from my comrades, who—after a bit of grief-giving—confidently assured me that their directions had, nonetheless, led me back into civilization. After a fair bit of joking and multiple recounts of how the experience transpired, we all swaggered back to our vehicle, and savored our well-fought, content drive back home.

Corn mazes are fast becoming a staple of Montana communities and provide excellent cultural melting pots for everyone in our local neighborhoods to come together and celebrate autumn. As an increasingly popular activity to take part in, these events offer residents a chance to get out and see their local communities in action, with many opportunities to entertain themselves through a variety of traditional and wholesome activities! If you find yourself with the chance, few things match the rewarding feeling of conquering such large-scale puzzles, and coming out of the other side knowing that you left a gorgeous fall day in Montana well-spent.

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