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Clayton Fear Farmer’s Unique Way of Giving Thanks

Why I photographed a cornfield from the air

Glenn Boyette will tell you that he has been farming for all of his 59 years. With 100 acres in Johnston County, he has worked his farm 11 hours a day, seven days a week.

That changed after one of Boyette’s rare trips away from the farm. While vacationing in the Outer Banks, he and his wife Bonnie decided to climb the 268 steps to the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, but severe chest pain cut their ascent short.

Upon his return to Raleigh, a nuclear stress test revealed that three of the arteries leading to Boyette’s heart were blocked and that he needed triple bypass surgery. Cardiothoracic surgeon Robert Peyton, MD, performed Boyette’s procedure at the WakeMed Heart Center.  His cardiologist Matthew Hook, MD, and the highly skilled WakeMed Heart Center staff cared for him after the procedure.

Once home, Boyette thought about the incredible care and caring he received as a patient at the WakeMed Heart Center and wanted to find a way to properly thank the staff and physicians for all they did to save his life. 

It just so happens that Boyette is the founder of one of the most successful Halloween attractions in the area, The Clayton Fear Farm.  Each year, the Boyettes create a massive corn maze with more than two miles of trails.  He thought, “What better way to say thank you than to carve the WakeMed Heart Center logo out of corn?”

A beautiful day

A few months later I climbed aboard Air Mobile, WakeMed’s helicopter for a fuel run to Johnston County.  Air Mobile must fly over the cornfield each time it refuels. 

The pilot and I didn’t know the exact location of Clayton Fear Farm, so I looked it up on my smartphone.  The pilot and crew checked of their pre-flight list, doors shut, seatbelts fastened. We donned helmets and headsets for communication, and to seal out the roar of spinning rotors.

I thought of my then-five year old daughter’s description of takeoff on her first flight as the helicopter lifted from the pad: “I feel joy in my stomach!”

We made a beeline to the farm. It was a perfect time of the day to make photographs. In fact, photographers call it “the golden hour,” when the light is most beautiful, about an hour before sunset.  “Great time to get fuel,” I thought.

I took out my smartphone from one of the many pockets of my flight suit, using the onscreen map as a guide. The gps locator that represented the aircraft blipped toward our destination. We were close now, so we began to look for the maze.

Tom Parker, our pilot, saw it first. “That is PRET-TY cool,” he said. It took me another 15 seconds to spot it. It was a thing of beauty. The corn maze looked like a huge green welcome mat, and it was greeting us. On closer observation it looked like each stalk of corn was a pixel on a computer screen.

Cut paths formed the logo for the WakeMed Heart Center, with more paths cut around it to create a complex picture frame surrounding the logo centerpiece. The maze was exquisitely executed, precise and clean.

“I would not like to get lost in this maze,” I thought.

I opened a small hatch in the door, and stuck the camera lens out of the hole, and started pressing the shutter button, taking pictures in rapid succession as the aircraft circled the maze. The emerald green patch of crops fit in the context of the patchwork of the surrounding farmland.

Glenn Boyette and his family had found a most unique way a farmer could to say thanks for the gift of health regained.

Patients who experience above-and-beyond service and care at a WakeMed facility show their appreciation to physicians and staff in many ways.  But only one has ever displayed his thanks in five acres of corn.  I witnessed his appreciation from a height where it is best understood. I am honored to share with you what I saw that day.

Julie Macie is a graphic design architect with WakeMed.  One of the roles she fills at WakeMed is that of photographer. She makes photographs all over our health care system, from employee portraits, to heart surgeries; from documenting employees in action in our emergency department, to capturing teaching sessions in our medical simulation laboratory.  Suffice it to say, that Julie was quite surprised when she was asked to make an aerial photograph of the Clayton Fear Farm corn maze.