Days of cider and corn stalks

By Daniel Dunkle | Sep 30, 2016
Christine, Wesley and Samantha

Saturday was too nice to stay indoors all day, even for me.

It was sunny and dry, with just enough chill in the air for me to pull on a sweatshirt. The kids are older now and they have become welded at the eyeballs to various screens -- TV screens, tablet screens -- and they moan a bit at first when you tell them to get dressed and ready to go somewhere. Usually I'm the worst of the lot, wanting to sit around watching old movies or reading a book.

Christine didn't say much about it when I suggested taking off for Beth's farm in Warren, even though I'm always the one who complains about the idea when it comes from her.

Beth's is a big farming operation. When you walk up to the store this time of year, you pass big bins full of bright orange pumpkins -- small ones, big ones, knobby bumpy ones -- along with squashes and gourds. Inside they have all kinds of veggies that you can grow on a farm, jars of pickles and jams, sharp cheese, gallon jugs of cider and everything else you can imagine.

Normally we don't go all the way to Warren to buy groceries, though. We go this time of year for the hayrides and the corn maze.

Out behind the store is a little playground where the kids can swing or ride trikes (my 10-year-old, Sami's, too big for the latter, but enjoyed the former) that serves as a kind of train station for those awaiting the next hayride.

After a while, one of the farm hands brought a big tractor hauling a trailer with hay bales for seats lumbering up and there were steps to get on board.

The hayride is slow and bumpy, but you get to look at all the farmland as it goes past. There was a field of tomatoes across from an apple orchard followed by a good frog-catching pond. The whole scene put me in the mood for playing outside like a kid. It reminded me of my childhood visits to my great aunt's farm up in New Brunswick, playing on old rusted farm equipment out in the trees and three-wheeling around the potato fields. Eventually we came to a great pyramid made of hay. I scrambled to the top of this, along with the kids. There we had a view of where we had just come from and the field of corn that was our destination.

Other years I have done the corn labyrinth, but did not enjoy it as much; but this year I discovered that there was a map and a game, a quest to find all of the checkpoints.

I took over the map duties and took pride in telling the rest of the family expedition exactly where we were at any given moment. The maze was in the shape of two Jack-O-Lanterns, so I would proclaim, "We are now in the nose!" "We are now in the mouth! This is the tooth, see?" When we found the checkpoints, they were signposts with hole punches in various shapes -- triangle, egg, teardrop -- hanging by strings. If we punched all the shapes on our card we would win a pumpkin, I was told.

We wandered around in the sun for a long time, finding signs and checkpoints among the many stalks of corn. The dry leaves brushed us as we went past and they were almost sharp enough to worry they would give you a paper cut, but I came home with no scratches. This was thirsty work and I had not planned ahead, so soon Samantha was complaining about wanting to go back. The last two checkpoints eluded us.

My son, Wesley, and I wanted to continue the search, to beat the challenge.

"I thought you were growing your own pumpkins," Samantha groused.

"The pumpkin's not the point," I said.

At one point we even split up, with Wesley and me running around the second Jack-O-Lantern maze, searching in vain, first for the = sign-shaped checkpoint, and then for each other.

It also reminded me of a patch of what appeared to be bamboo that grew near my childhood home in Hampden. We liked it as kids because you could clear out an area and that could serve as a fort. We used to chase each other around in there playing guns, and I remember throwing handfuls of dust down to simulate the dirt kicked up in action movies by bullets and bombs.

Eventually, we had to give up the search and came wandering back out to the farm store. They had these dixie cups for free samples of cider, which was ice cold. That was just about the best drink I ever had in my life after walking around in that corn field for over an hour.

We had to take a gallon of the stuff with us when we left. We didn't even get out of town. We ate our suppah at Andes Variety and then it was off to home. By the end of the weekend, we were curled up under blankets and I was using that cider to wash down pumpkin pie.

They probably have fall other places, but nobody does it like Midcoast Maine.

The first picture I had on the front page of The Courier-Gazette was pumpkins like these when I started in September 1998. These are from Saturday at Beth's Farm in Warren. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
This is Christine as seen from the top of the pyramid. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
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