Cornfield

On March 18, 2015 · 0 Comments

I wouldn’t quite call it a groundswell, however more than one hundred different people searched for "cornfield" on Twelve Mile Circle over the last five years. Readers wanted an article based on cornfields and I shall oblige. Never say that 12MC doesn’t respond to its loyal fans. I interpreted cornfield to mean Corn Maze because I couldn’t comprehend of any other reason to consider a cornfield even remotely interesting. Actually I think I preferred the British term for Corn Maze in this instance, Maize Maze. It sounded so much more a-MAZE-ing. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.


Corn Maze
Corn Maze by Anthony Easton, on Flickr (cc)

The Corn/Maize Maze concept probably didn’t merit much explanation. A farmer would drag a mower through virgin cornfields, cutting passageways into intricate, confusing patterns, forming a maze. Oftentimes patterns unfolded into elaborate works of art viewed best from above. Visitors explored the maze, got lost, found surprises and generally had a great time. The concept wasn’t new. Hedge mazes dated back several centuries as noted in an earlier article, Hazy Hedge Maze Memories. The difference here, however, was impermanence. Hedges took decades to reach maturity and their labyrinths remained fixed in place. A corn/maize maze could change radically every growing season.

While mazes constructed of crops inherited an ancient pedigree, I was surprised to learn that this adaptation was distinctly modern. I’d thought that corn/maize mazes had been around for a long time, guessing they probably traced back to the late 19th Century. That was completely wrong. They’ve only been around since 1993. Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania (map) claimed the first example:

In the early 1990s, Midwest farmers were struggling to recover from severe flooding, which ruined many crops, including corn. LVC alumnus and Disney World producer Don Frantz ’73, and then-student Joanne Marx ’94, had a plan to do something about it: build a corn maze, charge admission, and contribute the proceeds to the Red Cross to aid the disaster victims. Frantz had read about Europe’s small hedge mazes… "If there was an American adaptation of the European art, it would be a maze in a cornfield," said Frantz in a 1993 interview.

The concept took off from there and not just in the United States. An organization called The MAiZE included affiliates in more than 250 locations, primarily in North America. Another group, the Maize Maze Association did much the same focused primarily in the United Kingdom.

I picked a few random examples from around the world.


Canada



The Deer Meadow Farms Corn Maze in Winnipeg, Manitoba (map) was featured in a nice YouTube video taken from an ultralight airplane. This maze could be enjoyed from high above or down at ground level. Deer Meadow Farms used Global Positioning System equipment to sculpt its field with a new design each year, offering four levels of challenge:

• Try just wandering through and finding your way out. (Easy)
• Try to find the picture stations and take a photo. (Medium)
• Try to find all the hidden Trivia Stations and answer the questions…correctly. (Difficult)
• Try # 3 during the Maze by Dark nights. (Very Difficult)

It should take about 45 minutes to complete the maze pursuing the easier scenarios.


United Kingdom


Spitfire Maze
Spitfire Maze by Geoff Collins, on Flickr (cc)

I liked looking at the Milton Maize Maze in Milton, East Anglia, England. The design in the Flickr image represented a Spitfire airplane in commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain. The version found on Google Maps (map) was a more recent vintage and featured a large ear of corn rendered as a cartoon character.

The Milton Maize Maze website said,

We normally recommend that you allow yourself 1 hour 30 minutes to navigate the maze and allow yourself another two + hours to enjoy the other activities on site… The maze is a multi-maze with two completely different mazes in one… There is a good chance you may get lost; it is a seven acre field with several miles of paths! Never fear if you don’t soon get your bearings there are maze marshals on hand to point you in the right direction.

Several miles of wandering might be a bit much for me.


Poland



Pałac Kurozwęki Maze, Poland

Why did I focus on a maze at Pałac Kurozwęki (map) in Poland? Quite simply because it was farther away from the birthplace of temporary agricultural mazes than any other I found. Sure there might be others in existence although I didn’t feel like spending a lot of time searching. Please feel free to offer better examples in the comments if you’re so inclined. Kurozwęki actually described itself as a Hemp/Maize Maze.

By walking in our maze, you can test your sense of direction, resourcefulness and other abilities. Every year we organise games and competitions by placing on the maze paths questions or riddles to answer. The task is additionally exciting because cell phones are blocked on the premises so you must rely only yourself.

I wasn’t sure how the hemp reference figured into the formula. I assumed it was the type of hemp used to make rope and twine. Further research demonstrated that there were a number of mazes that combined maize, hemp, sunflowers and other tall stalky plants to add variety to the experience or color to the designs. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some visitors used a certain other hemp-based product to enhance the experience even further.


Completely Unrelated

I mentioned in the previously-referenced five years of searching that Iowa moved ahead of Minnesota in frequency, 47 to 31. A clever reader searched on Minnesota eight times the following day. It wasn’t enough to push Minnesota into the lead although it edged it a bit closer. The reader, naturally, came from Minnesota.

Hairy Man

On January 25, 2015 · 2 Comments

I don’t know why I started wondering about Bigfoot this morning. Yes, the actual Bigfoot, as in Sasquatch the large mysterious cryptid hominid of North America’s Pacific Northwest region. I don’t put much faith in the whole Bigfoot phenomenon because I think one would have been discovered by now if it existed, making it all that more unusual for me to suddenly have this interest in the topic. If folks want to believe in it then I’m happy for them. I hope they find one. I’ll get excited when I can visit one in a zoo.

There was a particularly famous image of a so-called encounter that seeded my thoughts. I think many 12MC readers might be familiar with it. The photo depicted a critter in mid stride, arms swinging, ambling along a creek bed with trees in the background. Some basic checking revealed it as Frame 352 of the Patterson–Gimlin film. I won’t reproduce it here because of potential copyright limitations. Even Wikipedia used the image with some trepidation so curious readers can follow the link and probably come to the instant realization that they’ve seen it before. Go ahead. I’ll wait.



Bigfoot

My actual goal was designed to uncover the exact spot where the Patterson–Gimlin "sighting" occurred. That was relatively easy to find because the notoriety of the image generated a lot of follow-up efforts either to confirm or debunk the story. It was a spot along Bluff Creek in Northern California’s Six Rivers National Forest. Curiosity satisfied, I still faced a quandary. How could I illustrate an event when I couldn’t use a copyrighted image? Let’s just say interesting things happen when one types Bigfoot into the search bar at Flickr. That’s how I got sent down tangents like,


The Hairy Man Festival


Bigfoot / Hairy Man
Bigfoot / Hairy Man by JD Hancock, on Flickr (cc)

The mere existence of Austin Texas’ Hairy Man Festival seemed completely bizarre. The truth behind it was even better.

The legend of the hairy man dates all the way back to the 1800’s, when Hairy Man Road in Round Rock was just a simple dirt path that cut through a dense wooded area parallel to Brushy Creek. Travelers who navigated the route gained convenient passage in and out of Austin, but at a price: They risked angering a territorial hermit who did not take kindly to trespassers.

So about twenty years ago local residents decided to hold a festival with a Hairy Man theme. It featured lots of live music, a 5K race along Hairy Man Road (map) and even a Hairiest Man Contest with a $500 prize. People will find any excuse for a party and that’s what makes things like this wonderful.


Hairy Hill, Alberta, Canada

Canadians could be hairy too in the form of a tiny village, Harry Hill in Alberta (map).



Hairy Hill was too small to have much of anything recorded about it although Twelve Mile Circle did uncover one local source that claimed,

The unusual name of this small community is rooted in history. The buffalo used to sun themselves on these picturesque hills and had rubbing wallows where large amounts of hair would accumulate. In the 1900’s when the Canadian Pacific Railway laid its tracks they found all the buffalo hair on the large hills and named the hamlet Hairy Hill. The original hamlet site was located two miles south of its present location and was relocated to be closer to the railway. The hamlet of Hairy Hill is only 95 km from Edmonton and plays host to the very popular Hairy Hill Rodeo

Somehow I found bison hair much more comforting as a source of legend than either the possibility of Bigfoot running through dense wilderness in California or the mentally unstable man in need of a barber who harassed travelers in Texas. One would need to move to Manitoba for that level of oddity, where Hairy Man Point (map) was named for the supposed spotting of a large hairy man by the Ojibwa sometime in the distant past.


Yowie! It Must Be Australia


Woodburn Yowie
Woodburn Yowie by Sydney Wired, on Flickr (cc)

On a roll, I decided to examine Hairy places in Australia too, encountering both Hairy Mans Rock in New South Wales (map) and Harry Man Creek in Victoria (map). Very little information existed about either place although they both seemed to be related to Yowie stories. I have to admit being ignorant of Yowies until just now. They appeared to be similar to the Bigfoot phenomenon and based upon legends passed down by Aborigines.

That’s enough hair for one day. I think I need a haircut.

Southern Swing, Part 2

On January 11, 2015 · 0 Comments

The second part of my quick southern trip moved west. We began in St. Augustine, Florida a couple of days earlier and now it was time to move on to family on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This transformed into an exercise in county counting. My completion map of Florida counties changed dramatically for the better as we proceeded farther west along Interstate 10.


Florida County Outline Map
Florida Counties Visited, produced using Mob Rule

I grabbed an entire northern tier of Florida counties crossed by I-10, capturing new ones from Baker to Okaloosa. This added a dozen to my list: Baker, Columbia Suwannee, Madison, Jefferson, Leon, Gadsden, Jackson, Washington, Holmes, Walton and Okaloosa. I’d also visited one additional Florida county a couple of days earlier. I got out of bed at 5 a.m. one morning and snagged Clay County since it was only about a thirty minute round-trip. I returned to the hotel before anyone else in the family even woke up. They were never the wiser. That made the complete collection of new counties a nice Lucky 13 for the trip.

The northern tier of Florida felt unlike any of my earlier Florida experiences. It was a lot more hilly than I expected; the hills weren’t large although the terrain had a definite roll. Also pine trees dominated the landscape instead of palm trees, and of course there were no ocean views. Few people lived along the route except for those near Tallahassee and Pensacola. I put the car on cruise control and piled on the miles. It took most of a day just to get out of Florida before hitting Alabama briefly and then crossing into Mississippi.

I’ve been to Southern Mississippi many times. The challenge of writing this article would be avoiding places I’ve discussed before, or at least finding a new angle.


John C. Stennis Space Center


Stennis Space Center
Stennis Space Center

Anyone traveling through Mississippi on I-10 will drive right through the buffer zone of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) John C. Stennis Space Center. NASA designated 125,000 acres (195 square miles / 500 square kilometres) around the Center as a noise abatement area to dampen the deafening sounds of rocket engine testing. Private citizens still own land there and can have access to it although they cannot build homes upon it. The base itself is considerably smaller, 13,500 acres (21 mi2 / 55 km2). That space is tightly controlled and requires access through guarded gates.

I’ve watched the security evolve over the years. Anyone could drive onto the base and visit the StenniSphere, NASA’s visitor center, without any special permission prior to September 11, 2001. Of course the world changed after 9-11. NASA moved its visitor staging area to a nearby rest stop adjacent to Interstate 10. From there, tourists caught a shuttle bus which brought them onto the base and unloaded them at the StenniSphere. I guess that wasn’t secure enough or maybe it was simply an interim measure. Now, probably within the last few months, NASA opened a new visitor center next to the rest stop. It was completely outside of the base in a public area that they’ve named the INFINITY Science Center (map). Tourists can still hop on a shuttle bus for a driving tour of the large rocket testing platforms although they don’t have quite the level of freedom to roam around as before.

I’ve never been lucky enough to visit Stennis during an engine test. Testing is a bit random and isn’t announced ahead of time for security reasons. Nonetheless, the guides said any shuttle buses driving past the platforms at the right moment will stop at a safe spot to enjoy the show. Maybe next time.


Alligators


Insta-Gator Ranch
Insta-Gator Ranch

Down the road a bit in Louisiana, we stopped at the Insta-Gator Ranch & Hatchery near Abita Springs (map). I’d never been there before so that was a new experience. They raise alligators commercially to be turned into handbags, wallets, boots, belts and other accessories. The entire industry was overseen by the State of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Alligator Program.

Since the inception of the Department’s program in 1972, over 810,000 wild alligators have been harvested, over 6.5 million alligator eggs have been collected, and over 3.5 million farm raised alligators have been sold bringing in millions of dollars of revenue to landowners, trappers and farmers.

Alligators were an endangered species in Louisiana prior to the program. The population rebounded dramatically. Each commercial rancher continues to return a certain percentage of its adult alligators to the wild as a condition of the program. Four year old alligators are large enough to avoid predation so they have a very high survival rate, leading to more eggs and more alligators. Eggs are laid only once per year and they hatch in late August-ish. Ranchers from Insta-Gator fly ultralight aircraft over the marshes and swamps to spot the nests, mark them with a flag, and return to collect eggs. They then raise hatchlings to adulthood, some destined to become handbags and some destined for freedom. I’ll offer some advise for any alligators being raised commercially: get a nick or scar on your belly because that gives you an imperfection and you’ll probably be freed. Nobody wants a handbag with a blemish.

The ranch had several alligators much older and larger than the rest. Those were used for movies, television and advertisements. It burst my bubble just a bit when I learned that many of those "reality" TV shows set in swamps and bayous use farm-raised gators. The scenes are staged.


Laurel & Hardy


Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi
via Google Street View, July 2014

This one is a bit of a non sequitur. Does anyone remember back in 2013 when I featured intersecting streets that formed the names of Comedy Duos? Like, someone in Washington Radley, Kansas lives at the corner of Abbot & Costello? It’s not that important so don’t worry about it if you don’t.

Anyway, I spotted this road sign in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and didn’t have enough time to pull out my camera so I’ve borrowed a Google Street View image. It wasn’t quite a crossroads like in the earlier article. Laurel, in this case, was a nearby town. Hardy was one of the primary streets in Hattiesburg; it went directly past the University of Southern Mississippi. I still laughed a little when I saw the unintentional reference to Laurel & Hardy.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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