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Corn Maze Craze; Skydive and SpaceX; Songs From Above

A corn maze in Rhode Island
A corn maze in Rhode Island

Read, listen and learn English with this story. Double-click on any word to find the definition in the Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary.

Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

I’m June Simms.

On our show this week, we tell about sky divers and space flight.

We also play some sky and space songs.

But first we go get lost in a very special kind of corn field…

Corn Maze Craze

Growing food is the main job of farmers. But in the United States, some farmers are growing another crop -- harvest-time fun. This “agri-entertainment” can include pick-your-own pumpkin fields and horror houses guaranteed to frighten visitors around Halloween time.

And then there is the corn maze.

Barbara Klein has our report.

The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye at the Denver Botanic Garden’s demonstration farm. The tall green plants in this three and one-half hectare field are filled with ripening ears of corn. They will be used when they are ready to feed livestock.

But right now, the crop is profitable. People from the city pay to enter the corn field at one place and try to find their way out another.

This is called a corn maze. The tall plants grow in rows that create many paths that suddenly end. Visitors can find circular trails and rectangular routes that lead to nowhere.

Visitor David Williams says he will not get lost.

“You don’t go the quickest way doing this, but you go the sure way.”

“You just stay to the right here, see? Always touch the right wall.”

Suddenly, Mr. William’s grandsons race by. Their grandmother -- Cathy Williams -- is chasing them.

“I’m, I’m following the kids. They’ll get me out, right?”

Many people enjoy getting lost in this corn maze.

“OK…move forward? Keep going?”

“OK, I think we take the right.”

“No, we can’t take the right…”

One hundred thousand people pay to come to the maze every year. That makes Denver Botanic Garden’s maze one of the most popular in the United States. Will Jones leads the public relations department at the Garden.

“We have people who actually travel all over the world -- or from all over the world -- to come to our corn maze. I met a bunch of folks last year, and this is the time of the year that they go from city to city, going from maze to maze, getting lost.”

Visitors also can buy pumpkins and apple fritters, a sweet, fried treat. The head of the farm, Adam Lucas, says pumpkin sales and maze tickets bring in a lot of money.

“You can make more off a corn maze than you can just growing the corn and selling it for feed, or whatever. So they call it ‘agri-tainment.’”

Mr. Lucas says like any crop, agri-tainment is a lot of work. The labor began in the spring with the choosing of a maze design and the planting of corn seeds. A maze company makes marks on the corn when is just centimeters high. Then they follow the marks to cut the field so it grows up to become a series of very confusing pathways.

“I meet them with them out here, and they mark it with blue dye when the corn’s only about a foot, not even a foot tall. Takes them about four to six hours to cut it out.”

Farm workers keep the paths of the maze clear as the corn grows through the summer months. On opening day in September the corn on both sides of the paths was taller than a man.

On her one hundred hectare farm near Denver, Rachelle Wegele says agri-tainment can bring people to see her family farm in operation.

“We’ve been farmers since nineteen eleven.”

Ms. Wegele began Anderson Farms with grain and cattle. In nineteen ninety-seven, they planted pumpkins.

“We started just here with a little pumpkin patch, nothing else. I think we had a few farm animals, little-bitty concession stand. And then two years later, we added the corn maze. And we were the first corn maze in Colorado.”

Each autumn harvest season, fifty thousand people visit Anderson Farms for the agri-tainment. They come for the pumpkins and the corn maze. They see women wearing old-style clothing and makeup that gives them the look of the “living dead” -- haunting, hollow eyes and bluish skin. One entertainer will be a zombie creature.

“Tonight I will be the haunted school teacher, and I will be popping out of a corner, yelling at people for their homework.”

As the sun sets, wagons fill with visitors armed with paintball guns that shoot small balls filled with washable orange paint.

“We’re here for the first time to shoot zombies with paintballs. This is, this is gonna' be a kick!”

A farm tractor pulls a wagonload of zombie hunters into a lighted corn field. Suddenly, there’s a zombie.

The visitors fire their paintball guns and cover the zombie with orange paint. As the tractor rolls along more and more zombies appear. Finally, all the paintballs have been fired.

“This is actually an extremely fun experience. Can’t wait to come back again!”

Such rural fun is taking place across the United States now at thousands of corn mazes and agri-tainment centers. Visitors celebrate the harvest season and help support American farms.

Austrian Skydiver Breaks Sound Barrier

This week, Felix Baumgartner of Austria became the first skydiver to break the speed of sound. The International Federation of Sports Aviation says he reached a speed of one thousand three hundred forty-two kilometers an hour. That is equal to Mach one point twenty-four. No one has ever reached that speed while wearing only a high-tech space suit.
Felix Baumgartner of Austria jumping out of the capsule
Felix Baumgartner of Austria jumping out of the capsule

Last Sunday, a huge balloon filled with helium gas carried Felix Baumgartner in a pressured capsule high in the sky. He jumped out of the device when it was more than thirty-eight kilometers above the New Mexico desert. He said his jump was more difficult than anything he has ever done.

"When I was standing there on top of the world you become so humble you do not think about breaking records anymore. You do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing that you want is -- you want to come back alive because you don't want to die in front of your parents, your girlfriend and all of the people watching this.”This became the most important thing to me when I was standing out there."

Felix Baumgartner landed safely in the desert. Using a parachute, his return trip to Earth lasted about ten minutes.

The Austrian man broke the world record for a high-altitude jump, which American Joe Kittinger set in nineteen sixty. He also broke a fifty-two year old record for the highest parachute jump and set an altitude record for a balloon passenger.

Speaking of high flying, the American business SpaceX successfully launched its first cargo supply mission to the International Space Station this month. SpaceX made history earlier this year by being the first private company to fly to the Space Station.

Sky and Space Songs

We were quite moved by all the news falling from the sky and speeding through space. It inspired us to play a few songs about sky and space. Christopher Cruise is our pilot.

There are a lot of space songs to choose from in rock and pop music. One of the most famous is “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. He released the song in nineteen sixty nine on his album of the same name.

“Space Oddity” tells the story of an astronaut who floats away from Earth forever when something goes wrong with his space vehicle.

Ten years later, the American New Wave band the B-52s came out with “Planet Clair.” It is about a space alien who visits Earth. The song says, she came from Planet Clair / I knew she came from there / she drove a Plymouth Satellite / faster than the speed of light.

“Swinging on a Star” is a song from the nineteen forty-four movie “Going My Way.” Bing Crosby starred as a young, untraditional Roman Catholic priest. And, of course, he sings. In “Swinging on a Star” Crosby asks the question would you like to swing on a star / carry moonbeams home in a jar / and be better off than you are.

The band Smash Mouth also sings a song about visiting a star. We leave you with Smash Mouth performing “Walkin’ on the Sun.”