As a fairly recent Denver transplant from the South, I can tell you that fall doesn’t really exist in those states, or at least the ones that I’ve been to. It gets less than stiflingly hot, sure, but even the idea of wearing a long-sleeved shirt in North Carolina at this time of year is preposterous. Because Colorado is so deliciously, seasonably varied, I’ve been soaking up the fall, almost to the point of being obnoxious.
When Brad suggested we hit up the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield for the 8-acre corn maze, I could practically hear my flannel shirts yelping in anticipation. We kept the windows rolled down during the drive up, and the wind had the perfect amount of crispness to it as the sun shone bright on my eyelids. We parked in a big field, but the cornfield was nowhere to be found. Instead, we saw what appeared to be all the children this side of the Rockies swarming toward and around a farmhouse-like building. Normally, this number of children would send me swiftly into a panic attack, but with the prospect of all that corn-y fun, I merely felt a sense of camaraderie with the little tykes.
Brad and I made our way down the paths and over the bridges, following the signs for the maze and pumpkin patch, talking mad smack about who would be first out of the maze should the two of us get separated. At last, we rounded the bend and the corn rows stretched out in front of us like the back of Ludacris’s head. The pumpkin festival was going strong as well, and scents of kettle corn, funnel cakes and horses mingled with the dust being kicked up all around us.
As we shuffled across the dirt to the maze entrance, families and couples trickled out of the exit, or the halfway point, depending on how committed to finishing the maze they were. We were given two pages of ten clues each, one easy and one difficult, for when we came to a fork in the path. Brad tucked the easy clues into my palm. “You might need this,” he said with a wink, before I elbowed him in the ribs. And so, we were off to give this maze a what-for.
The dirt floor was well-trodden and littered with dried kernels. Sometimes we came across passages through the rustling corn stalks from what could only be a frustrated parent with a fussy toddler. Giggling children ducked through them to give their parents the slip, and teenagers too, grinning at us for catching them in their blatant cheating. Sometimes we would come to a wider path that looked like it went in a big circle, but we quickly found out it was an illusion leading to a different part of the path. We nailed most of our clues, except for number four. We came back to number four. We passed the same groups of people at times, and that always meant that one of us was going in the wrong direction. We made it to the halfway point, and we passed a couple sunglass-ed young security fellows propped against their hut.
“Didja make it halfway?” one of them asked through his megaphone from a foot and a half away from me.
“Sure did,” I said, looking back at the “Halfway Point” sign we had just walked under.
“Congratulations,” they said with a smirk.
Brad and I set off on part two with the other corn maze champs, and it went without much directional confusion until about clues eight through ten. We knew we were close to the exit because we could hear the security guys on their megaphone (“No redheads allowed in the maze.”), but we had to keep doubling back. We kept passing the same kid who was speeding through (his father, a ways behind him, muttering to his wife, “He doesn’t even know where he’s going, it’s just dumb luck.”) and a girl with a guy who had the words KING KONG tattooed on his arms.
Finally, after an hour amidst the corn, we found the exit and applauded our triumph. We briefly pondered taking on the Mini Maze and showing those kids how it’s done, but we decided to get our pumpkin patch on instead. The gourds closest to the gate were few and far between, but we saw the ground on the opposite end of the patch was still littered with orange spheres, just waiting to be gutted and carved. Brad and I moved through the patch, and Linus’s voice rang through my head the entire time (“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”). Brad found a perfectly round one, a little squat and with satisfying ripples in the skin, complete with a solid stem. I saw mine from three rows away. I leapt across the vines, my jumbo bag of kettle corn knocking against my legs. My pumpkin was a taller one, smoother than Brad’s when it comes to ridges, but rougher when it comes to flaws, which is how I like them. One side was a little flat, and it was topped with a beautifully gnarled stem. We shouldered our soon-to-be Jack-O’-Lanterns—and realized we had approximately fifteen minutes of walking to get back to the car.
By the time we arrived at the parking lot field, we had beads of sweat across our foreheads and we had to keep switching hands because they were cramping up. Brad jokingly offered to run and grab the car for me, but I figured he would leave me there in the field like Cinderella with a pumpkin for being such a wuss, so I soldiered on. I quite liked the burn in my biceps, anyway. We wedged our pumpkins in the back seat, and propped the kettle corn between us for the ride home. The sun was going down, and the salty/sweet scent of the buttered kernels wafted over us while we drove in silence. This is fall.