‘You don’t mind if we get lost in the maize, do you, Mummy?’
‘Well, I, erm… It can be quite scary when you can’t see your way out you know.’
I looked about me for the footpath Joe said he had been walking most days since lockdown. He had warned us the maize was now higher than his head, but I thought the path would be quite obvious. I could hear Peta and Amos nearby and see their clothes through the few rows of maize between us; I wasn’t able to place Melody exactly, but I could still hear her. I searched a few likely starts to footpaths where there were gaps in the regimented stalks, but couldn’t find a trodden path; I examined the field edge in our direction of travel, but the maize had been planted right up to the dry stone walls and looked impenetrable – no footpath there. I retraced my steps. Where was this way through? Then the silence registered; where, more importantly, were the children?
Peta’s words came back to me, registering properly for the first time; surely that hadn’t been a serious question – of course I’d mind if they got lost in the maize. But they are sensible children, I knew they’d be back soon so I wandered about a bit then sat on a nearby stile to wait. A silage harvester went past on its 10 acre loop round the next door field. By the time it passed a second time, unease was creeping its way in. I stood on the stile and looked out at the corner of the field. I could see no sign of the children. We’d come in to the field over a stile in the middle of a wall boundary then walked to this corner. I walked back to the place we had entered, trying not be let anxiety take hold. It was fine. The children knew they should always retrace their steps if they got lost and I could still see the corner they entered the maize while having a better view of the whole field from here. And with regards to the maize itself, I had already explained to the children about not damaging the crop on our way over to what I thought would be a diverting walk, ‘a bit like visiting a maze’ I had said to coax Amos out on his daily exercise…
I arrived at the stile by which we had entered the field and climbed it. That was when I began to feel sick. A vast emerald-green sea spread out in front of me. The silence was terrifying. I couldn’t see the furthest edges of the field from where I stood and the maize was so dense, I could have laid bedsheets over the top and they would have been supported. I searched for any sign of the children. What if they had become separated? Peta and probably Melody would manage, but what about Amos? Would he think to try and wave something above his head; would it even reach above the maize if he did? Would he think to follow one row of maize to the edge? But the rows didn’t run to the edge – what if the rows were one big row in a spiral? It was beginning to move towards dusk; what should I do? It was pointless going in myself, I’d be lost in seconds. Of course, I’d come out without my phone. How long would it take for Mark and Joe to realise there was a problem and come to find us? I knew the answer was hours. How do you find children lost in a maize field in the dark? I scanned the green surface over and over, willing my eyes to see something. Sometimes I thought I saw a patch of leaves twitch, but there was a breeze and I eventually came to the conclusion it must be eddies of air making the disturbance. Pictures of Amos, crying and alone, hopelessly lost and frightened began to push their way into my thoughts. I imagined him curled up in a ball, sobbing, hungry. Then, on the breeze, I thought I heard a voice. It was so incredibly faint, but sounded terrified and as though someone was screeching at the absolute top of their voice ‘I’m over here.’ I could have imagined it in my anxious state, but I moved further down the field edge in the direction the sound seemed to come from. I was really panicking now – that voice had sounded like Amos and if I was right, he’d travelled a very long way. I found a stable bit of wall to climb and scanned the field again. Minutes passed and then I saw, in the distance, something that I thought might perhaps be two heads on the far side of the field? Three heads? No, two heads. Could they belong to my children? I tried to remember what my children had been wearing as there was colour too. Yes, it looked like Peta and Melody. I waved my arms over my head. There was no reaction, I kept waving. After what felt like an age, the heads gained waving arms too. We waved at each other and kept waving – now what, and where was Amos?
As the girls seemed to have made it across the field, relatively close to where we knew the footpath continued, I figured it would make the most sense if I went to them, but there was no way for me to let them know this was the plan – they were just dots in the distance. And there was no way I was going to get myself lost. I half ran, half scrambled, round the hedge edge, all the time being scratched by hawthorn and thistles, stung by nettles, all the time making plans for how we could locate Amos between the three of us without getting lost ourselves. By the time I emerged by the girls who were still standing on the wall they had been waving from, my hair was crazily pulled from its plait, I was covered in scratches and nettle wheals, half hysterical with worry about Amos. There was a slight pause as the girls took in my bedraggled appearance before they started excitedly, ‘We had a great adventure!’
‘But where’s Amos?’ I stammered.
‘He’s over there!’
I looked and saw him in the next (grass filled) field.
‘He fell off the wall when we were shouting to you – he landed on his front in slow motion – it was hilarious!’
Amos nodded, beaming and began running round in circles. All three of the children were glowing with exhilaration while I practically collapsed on the spot.
The rest of the walk was spent hearing all about the great adventure. Peta, Melody and Amos were buzzing with their exploits. Suddenly the evening’s walk out had become epic! It was uplifting to share the children’s excitement. It’s not always easy for me to give them the freedom they need to explore life; sometimes it’s good to remember the safest route doesn’t necessarily prove to be the most rewarding.