Welcome Signs Of Autumn

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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The onset of fall, which became official with the fall equinox September 23, brings chores that I am not particularly fond of such as putting yard ornaments away, winterizing home and vehicles, and such. On the other hand, there are fun signs of fall like pumpkin patches, corn mazes and the calls of Canadian geese flocking overhead.

Call me different, but watching the huge flocks of geese as they prepare to migrate south has always intrigued me. This year we have had the pleasure of watching them gather and feed in the oat stubble behind our place. This is much better than having them in our yard like a couple years ago. They are persistent creatures, and no matter how many times we shooed them out, they always returned, leaving their trail behind so we always had to watch where we walked.

Although creatures of the wild, they have grown to like manicured lawns because grass is easy for them to digest and, with grass being cut short, it is easy for them to watch for predators. Their natural habitat is near water, grassy fields and grain fields. Geese are experts at removing kernels from dry corn cobs.

We humans could learn a couple lessons from them as they have very low divorce rates – they mate for life. This is quite a feat as the average lifespan is 24 years. They build their nests on the ground, made of dry grasses and mosses and lined with down and body feathers. The female does all the incubation while the male guards her and the nest.

I love to hear their honking as the large V formations of geese fly overhead on their trek south. The stronger, more experienced ones take turns leading the flock that can fly 16 hours a day at 60 mph. That’s an amazing 960 miles per day! Still on my bucket list is getting a photo of them flying in formation with the full moon behind them like you see in various magazines.

Visiting pumpkin patches and corn mazes are great ways to get out and soak up some fall rays. I am just a big kid at heart when it comes to pumpkins. Their bright orange color adds flair to fall activities. Many farmers’ markets and fruit stands have pumpkins to buy but there is nothing like watching a child choose the best jack-o-lantern pumpkin straight from the patch.

Jack-o-lanterns lend an eerie glow to porch steps around Halloween. The world’s largest one weighed 1,469 pounds and was carved at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association Weigh Off in Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania, on October 1, 2005. Just over a year later, on October 21, 2006 in Boston Commons, Massachusetts, a new record went into the Guinness Book of World Records. The “Life Is Good Company” paired with Camp Sunshine, a camp for kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families, to set the record for the most jack-o-lanterns lit in one place. Can you imagine 30,128 glowing simultaneously!

Corn mazes are one of the newer fall activities in the area. Farmers cut paths through cornfields to create giant puzzles for people to walk through. Remember as a kid, you were taught never to go in a cornfield because you could get lost. Well, in corn mazes, getting lost navigating through all the loops and dead ends is all part of the fun. It is also a good way for farmers to generate extra income by tapping into the tourist trade.

The mazes usually form a pattern that can only be seen from the air. Sometimes it is a popular cartoon character, a famous saying, or they depict an object. Farmers have to plan earlier in the year if they plan on doing a maze since corn for mazes is usually planted later than if it were just for regular crops. Also, attention must be given to planting varieties that are known for stalk strength and stability. When the walkways are cut, the internal part of the stalk must be cut out to prevent regrowth.

Generally, there are three types of corn mazes. Daytime mazes are family and smaller children oriented. The corn is only 8 or 9 feet tall, there are not so many twists and turns, and they are not as large and complex as other ones. Nighttime mazes are scarier, and visitors must use flashlights to navigate through. My favorite, the haunted corn maze, is like a haunted house – you never know what to expect!

Maize Inc. is the largest corn maze consulting/design company. It is 16 years old, has more than 2,000 corn mazes to its credit and has helped millions of people get lost in one of their designs.

I suppose all of these things add up to why I like this time of year. Corn mazes, pumpkin patches, jack-o-lanterns and the like are all fun activities with families in mind. They help people enjoy the great outdoors and the mood is light and fun. The very best part is you are never too old to be a kid this time of year!

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