Inside Track



By Eric P. Harding

It might be the years I spent in New England, but my soul soars when the air starts to feel just a bit brisk. For despite the commodification of all things autumn—I’m looking at you, pumpkin-spice everything—this is my favorite time of year. Sure, summer’s endless possibilities and spring’s rebirth are nice. I even like winter for its William Blake-like reminder that the darkness is necessary if we are to appreciate the light. But for my money, fall takes the cake with its chaotic, chromatic cacophony—nature’s fireworks show—with its just-right temperatures, and with the advent of autumn’s outdoor activities.

I took my kids to Virginia’s largest corn maze a few weeks back. Located a few hours south of D.C. proper, in Somerset, Va., Liberty Mills Farm boasts 34 acres of corn-fusing twists and turns—and four mazes to choose from. We chose a middle-­difficulty labyrinth, which featured a music-themed trivia game to coincide with the maze.

You should know we three Hardings are all very competitive. When told that it would take an hour or more to complete, we looked at one another and smirked. “We can beat that time,” I said, as we approached the entrance to the maze. We were all confident that we’d “win” the corn maze.

We quickly set out … and we were quickly out of our element. We had been given a map, but none of us is particularly adept at orienteering (especially when surrounded by vegetation). I tried to figure out where we were based on the several acute angles we had just taken, but to no avail.

I had to admit—to myself and to my progeny—that we were hopelessly lost.

That’s when I realized that this was what we had signed up for. “Winning” the maze meant giving yourself over to the experience—to putting down our phones for an hour (or longer!) and just enjoying the moments, together.

A good bit after that revelation, after we had meandered for quite some time, Wallace spotted the fork in the path that led us to the main thoroughfare—or was it Elliott?—and on to the finish of the corn quandary. So what if we didn’t finish in under an hour? I know we all had a grand time, and that’s a win in my book. (We finished the day trip with a shopping spree at the general store for candy corn and fudge, so I know my offspring remember that autumn day fondly as well.)

Thinking about that day, and the perfect seasonality of it, got me thinking about seasons in general. This issue’s features all touch on seasons—some a bit more obliquely than others.

In “Extreme Outcomes,” Michael G. Malloy examines the rise in extreme events being fueled by climate change. Wildfires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes—all used to have fairly well-defined seasons and specific locales that they impacted. But “once-a-century” events are occurring with unsettling frequency, leading some insurers to reconsider underwriting the risk in the first place.

Our cover feature, “Rising to the Top,” offers a look at this year’s crop—excuse me, I must still have corn on the brain—of Rising Actuary Award recipients. These capsules provide a glimpse into a talented cohort of the profession’s ascending stars; be sure to read their thoughts on tech like ChatGPT.

Finally, “Security, Safely” provides a new metric for measuring the effectiveness—and the relative safety—of a combined investment-and-annuity approach for retirement planning. For those who work with folks in the season of life where financial security matters most of all, this feature is not one to miss.

I hope you enjoy this issue. If you need me, I’ll be by the fireplace with a good book.

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