Tuesday, August 29, 2006


For about nine months of the year our home is a little island, surrounded on three sides by farmer's fields, and on the fourth by an abandoned apple orchard. The orchard was planted almost a century ago by my husband's grandfather, Esli. When he retired from farming, Esli sold off most of the farm to an immigrant family who wanted to live close to the land. The two acres of property that we live on are all that remain of the homestead that has been in the family since 1827. In time, the new owners sold the property to a land speculator, who is now waiting for the zoning to change so that he in turn can sell the property to a developer. The official plan says that within 20 years the burgeoning city will engulf us with subdivisions, and our two little acres will be all that remains of the local countryside.

Until then, the fields are leased to a local farmer who is a good steward of the land. He rotates his crops every year so as not to deplete the soil. Some years he plants soya beans, others it's corn. On a year such as this one, when cornfields become our temporary neighbor, the land is transformed. Slowly at first, the corn stalks emerge out of the ground. Throughout May and June we watch as the horizon slowly sinks around us. And then one morning, early in August, we are suddenly cast adrift on a sea of corn.

It's magical. Like the mists of Avalon, the cornstalks reach up to engulf our tiny oasis and we all but disappear. I didn't realize how complete the transformation was until recently, when I was giving someone directions to our home. At this time of year, the only landmark visible from the east is the loft of our garage. It seems to float above the cornfields, some incongruous apparition, strangely out of place in a sea of green.

Our dog loves the cornfield. If we're outside for more than a few minutes, Jessie will lope off in the direction of the corn. The only evidence of her passing into the cool green canopy is the zigzag rustling of the corn tassels. When we call her name, the rustling becomes more frantic as she runs toward our voices. There's always that moment of panic that she won't be able to find her way out of the giant maze. Then suddenly she appears - tail wagging, tongue lolling to one side - a victorious explorer, returning from the depths of the lush jungle.

When our son Peter was little, he would get dressed up in his very best space explorer costume, and he and his friends would disappear into the field, phasers in hand, ready to tackle aliens in this verdant world. The leafy canopy seemed to transport them to a distant planet, where the eternal battle between good and evil was played out again and again. Occasionally they would lose their sense of direction in the corn and for a moment their playground was truly an alien world. Always prepared, Peter would take out his compass, and the space warriors would return safely to their home base.

The members of my family aren't the only visitors who have found refuge in the cornfield. Several years ago, late in the season when the emerald stalks had dried to amber, our family took a walk up the field. We discovered a strange circle of corn that somehow had been laid flat. Our space explorer Peter immediately assumed that the area had been the sight of an alien landing, until my husband noticed hoof prints. The cornfields had apparently provided a tiny sanctuary for a family of deer, desperate to hide from the encroaching civilization and the illegal guns of not-so-sporting hunters.

Too soon autumn will be upon us, and our tiny island will re-emerge from the leafy sea that surrounds us as the mature cornstalks fall under the blades of the combines. Once again, we'll just be a farmhouse in the middle of a field, located dangerously close to the city. But for now our home is a magical island, floating on an ocean of green.


If you're not lucky enough to be surrounded by a cornfield, the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Board can help. Visit Ontario Farm Fresh and choose what kind of farm you'd like to visit, what kind of fresh produce you're looking for, and where you live.

You can also check out Rural Routes, a terrific guide to the products, services and activities that are available throughout Rural Ontario.


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