Children of the Corn 

Fremont's amazing MAiZE maze

It's late on a cool autumn night in the East Bay hinterlands, where suburban meets rural and no one seems to know where the line is between the two. You're alone in the middle of a cornfield. If you listen carefully in the darkness, you can barely hear the dull roar of freeway traffic somewhere off in the distance, but that's no help to you now. You're lost in a field of ten-foot-high corn stalks and you'd like to find your way out -- eventually. Scenes from various Stephen King novels begin to flash in your head. What's that sound? Why doesn't your flashlight work?

Relax, you're in the MAiZE, a decidedly gothic Halloween diversion for city dwellers who want to get in touch with the land and get the bejabbers scared out of them at the same time.

The Fremont attraction, part of a chain of some 100 "homegrown amusement parks" across the country, sits on five acres of East Bay Parks District land at the Ardenwood Farm near the Dumbarton Bridge (34600 Ardenwood Blvd., 510-205-8314 or www.cornfieldmaze.com). It's been open since September 22, but Halloween night is the ideal time to appreciate the MAiZE's two-mile-long labyrinth, hand cut in an existing cornfield in the shape of a witch on a broomstick. The aerial view is exciting in a kitschy, alien-rune sort of way, but the real action is on the ground, among the stalks.

Casey Easterly, a 25-year-old farmer's son from Eastern Oregon, designed and built the Fremont MAiZE to be navigated in 35 to 45 minutes, but at night, the unlit course seems to take on a life of its own, like the snowy maze in The Shining or the Scarecrow's abode in The Wizard of Oz. "The big hit is at night," claims Easterly. "On a moonlit night you can do the MAiZE in a little over an hour." With no lights? "Bring a flashlight," warns Easterly, who has installed lights on the maze's bridge.

The MAiZE is open Halloween until midnight ("haunted" by costumed characters), and will stay open, weather permitting, through November 10.

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