Specifically, her phone could have been buried under hundreds of pounds of straw on one of 10 hay wagons circulating through Butler’s Orchard, a 300-acre farm. Or entombed in the hayloft, filled hip-high with spongy layers of straw. Or tucked away in the Magic Maze, 56 bales of straw covered by a tarp to make sure it’s extra dark and impossible to see your feet, let alone a missing phone.
“The straw, it just eats stuff,” said Ben Butler, 24, whose grandparents founded the farm, a Germantown institution that features a produce market, pick-your-own fruits and the annual pumpkin festival. “You’re sitting in straw, playing with your kids, rolling around, you kind of lose track. In a flash, keys slip out of a pocket or a cellphone disappears. It’s not like a playground, where you can just go back and find it where you left it. Especially with the number of people in the barn and on the hayrides, things get tossed around and moved around.”
In a highly wired region in a nation where 56 percent of adults own smartphones, many who come to the farm to unwind in the country bring along their iPhones or Androids. And they lose them, often.
Some, consumed in the frolic of a family day off, lose more important things.
Gordon Hain’s white-gold wedding band slipped off his finger Sunday as he was brushing straw from his son’s hair in the hayloft.
“It just slid off my finger and disappeared into the hay,” said Hain, 31, of Silver Spring. “Even knowing where it landed, I just couldn’t find it. All the little bits of hay confuse the eye and it’s hard to focus on a particular item, especially something as small as a ring. There was no contrast between it and the hay.”
He and his family were on hands and knees in the hayloft for about a half-hour, digging frantically and kicking up a cloud of dust, to no avail.
“We were covered head to toe in hay by the time we walked out of there,” said Hain, who had never taken off his ring since his wedding six years ago. “I felt absolute numbness. Shock, really.”
To figure out the likelihood of finding something in a haystack by poking around with a long, thin stick, take the average cross-sectional area of the missing item and divide it by the area of the haystack, said Ian Stewart, a British mathematician and the author of “How to Cut a Cake and Other Mathematical Conundrums.”
In other words, good luck.
So many things disappear under all that hay at Butler’s, which has been running its pumpkin festival for 33 years, that the farm computerized its lost-and-found system to speed connections between people and possessions.
“Bags of stuff come in each day,” said Karlene Southard, the office manager and commander of the lost-and-found operation. At her feet was the haul from the two days: a gray knit bunny hat, a left-handed red mitten coated in straw, an adult-size Batman beanie, a pink costume cowboy hat, a child’s white sweater jacket, a pair of aviator sunglasses, a child’s left-handed knit glove, a Sony camera, a baby bottle, a teething ring, a Honda key, a green water bottle, an empty Ray-Ban sunglasses case. Three drawers in a metal filing cabinet were brimming with more stuff, and a corner was filled with a couple of cardboard boxes full of items.