Of all the news to come hurtling at us last week — Robin Williams’ death, the ongoing struggles in Iraq, Israel and the Ukraine, and the litany of speeding charges laid by the OPP, to name a few — the story that hit closest to home was local.
As I read the report of a two-year-old Huron County girl lost overnight in a cornfield, my heart sank and my throat clenched. Empathy came first; the scant few times I’ve momentarily lost sight of Charlotte in public would be nothing compared to losing a daughter, overnight, in what amounts to a hundred-acre wood.
But there was also a sense of familiarity. My siblings and I were those typical on-the-loose farm kids, fully laying claim to all 50 acres of the “home place”… and oftentimes my Uncle’s 50 acres next door and Grandma’s 50 adjacent to that.
A few years ago — during Farm Safety Week, naturally — I wrote about how my brother, in his youth, used to climb to the top of the combine to leap into the rafters of our largest drive shed, some 30 feet off the ground. My Mom was absolutely horrified to learn this bit of information, even 20 or so years on. Looking back, I am thankful that my brother, known for his orangutan-like abilities as a youngster, never managed to coerce me into doing the same. I’d be just as horrified to know if Charlotte was jumping out of V-boxes, swinging from age-weakened ropes in barn haylofts, or playing “dungeon” in abandoned silos (sorry, Mom!).
But feats of balance and youthful invincibility aside, farm kids know how easy it is to get lost in a cornfield. They are tempting places for hide-and-seek and various war-style games. But forget knee-high by the first of July; when you’re a little one, it doesn’t take too many heat units for stalks to soon soar over your head, obliterating any directional points like your house, barns or tree lines.
What first seems daring and fun soon turns sinister. The sound of your siblings, cousins or friends rustling in nearby rows fades away and you realize you’re alone in painfully unfamiliar territory. All of the rows look the same; the gaps, fungus and other supposed landmarks blend into one another in the silence.
Childhood instinct always suggested that cutting through rows would get you home faster, but it only mixed up the environment more. I’m speaking from experience, of course: while, thankfully, I wasn’t lost as long as the news-making toddler was, the few times I was felt like hours rather than the minutes they likely were (and I was a few years older, to boot).
It’s amazing that the little girl was found safe and sound the next morning, and, that even at her young age, she had the instinct to move into a shorter crop — a soybean field — where she would be more visible to those frantically searching for her. It’s stunning that she survived through the night with the few survival skills a toddler would have at her age.
Farm kids, whether it’s due to the increased responsibilities given to them, or the daily interaction with huge equipment and buildings, rule over their domains, but it can be oh-so-easy to forget just how dangerous it all can be. Kids will be kids, but hopefully the toddler’s siblings have learned a valuable lesson… and the rest of us are reminded that, until the corn comes off this fall, we all need to be wary — and aware — of the risks that lie within those rows.
Last week’s cooler temperatures had me thinking of heartier vegetable dishes. Pasta is always a crowd-pleaser, as are Mexican flavours. Keep this one on file for when school starts and quick, nourishing dinners become a necessity!
Chili Pasta Skillet
(adapted from kraftcanada.com)
3 cups rigatoni pasta, uncooked
1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup corn kernels
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 large tomato, chopped
½ cup salsa of your choice
¾ cup shredded cheddar or marble cheese
Hot sauce, to taste
Cook pasta as directed on package, omitting salt. Meanwhile, brown meat with onions and garlic in large skillet. Add zucchini, corn and chili powder; cook until vegetables are tender, about seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes and salsa; cook for three minutes until heated through, stirring occasionally.
Drain pasta and add to meat mixture; mix lightly. Stir in ½ cup cheese. Serve topped with remaining cheese and hot sauce as desired. Serves four.