Field Trip: In Which We Attempt to Go a Maple Sugaring and Find a Bull

I’m going to be honest here…last week was a wee bit stressful around the Comfortably Domestic house. At the risk of speaking in cliches, we are definitely a family that tries not to sweat the small stuff and goes with the flow of life. After all, why stress-out and get your panties-in-a-bunch about things that are completely out of your control?


Suffice it to say that there are potentially big changes afoot at our house, which I promise to stop being so cryptic about once it all actually Comes Down. So although we try to be laid back folk, by late last week, we were just done.  Like done-done.  It’s during times like these that I hear my dad’s voice in my head saying “Always try to avoid inviting trouble.”

Well we are sure trying not to invite trouble, but last week the uncertainty was starting to get the better of us. So first thing Saturday morning, the Bacon Slayer and I looked at each other and we said, “Want to go for a drive?”

And drive we did. There is just something about a drive through the country that’s good for the soul.

Thanks to the wonder that is Twitter, I heard about a farm not too far from our house that was holding their annual Maple Sugaring Open House that day. What could be more fun than learning about maple syrup?  Now not only did we have a great excuse to spend the day driving in the country, but we had a destination as well.  We had no idea where this farm was located, but we had a GPS and the determination to head out.

I love it when a Non-Plan comes together.

An hour later, we happened upon the Martha Wagbo Farm and Education Center. I took the cheery, hand painted Welcome sign as…well…a sign that we had made the right choice for how to spend our day.  Within seconds we were warmly greeted by several people welcoming us to the farm. Very sweet.

We learned that the Wagbo farm was donated to the community by Martha Wagbo, who was the last in her family to have lived on the property that her parents homesteaded after immigrating from Norway in the late 1800s. The Wagbo family was passionate about teaching others how to live sustainably off the land.

Martha thought it only fitting that her family’s passion would continue on the land that nurtured generations; so in 1992 she left the farm to the community in hope that it would continue to be a peaceful place in which people could learn about sustainable living off the land.  The Martha Wagbo Farm and Education Center is does just that–it’s 100% volunteer run–and dedicated to connecting people to the land.

You read that right–the farm is run solely by volunteers!  Better yet, the volunteers track their hours, and are paid at the end of the season in syrup! How cool is that?!  Naturally, our family signed up to work next year.

Needless to say, we were very excited to hike out in the woods, tap a few sugar maples, and see how maple syrup is made.

Except for the part where we couldn’t do any of that because the season ended two weeks ago with the freakish August-like temperatures we experienced Up North.  Our disappointment only lasted about 5 seconds because the Volunteer Staff at the farm were so engaging and informative that we really didn’t miss much.

The window of opportunity for maple syrup season is quite short. Sap from Sugar Maple trees only runs for a few weeks, and only under optimal conditions.  Days need to be above freezing so that the sap will flow upward from the roots to feed the budding leaves and flowers.  Temperatures must fall below freezing at night so that the sap returns to the roots to keep both the sap and the buds from freezing.

The appearance of blossoms on the trees signals the end of the syrup season, as at that point the sap becomes too bitter for syrup production.  Did you know that sugar maples have male and female blossoms? They do!

Sap is mostly water, so once collected, it needs to be boiled for a really long time to give that water time to evaporate, and give the remaining sap time to thicken to a syrupy consistency.  In fact, it takes 40 gallons of sap to render 1 gallon of maple syrup.

As y’all as my witness, I swear that I’ll never complain about the price of maple syrup again!

Once we learned a bit about making maple syrup, there were plenty of other activities to keep us occupied. Like these really sweet Shetland sheep. All three of them were very docile, and very pregnant–they were due to “lamb” any day.

I don’t know about the rest of the mothers in the house, but every time I was pregnant due to “lamb” I was anything but sweet & docile. Props to the sheep.

Son #1 made a bee-line to the goats that were all too happy to have him feed them grass by hand.  If not for the leash, I think Son #1 would have tried to smuggle this goat into our van. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’d plotted out a way that we could raise goats for a living.

To which I replied, “Dude. Sheep are cool and all, but goats creep me out.” I’m a real dream-crusher that way.

Sons #2 & #4 were enthralled with the Bucket o’ Bubbles. They loved discovering all of the everyday household items that it was possible to blow bubbles through.

Son #3 was partial to the maple syrup over ice cream. If you’ve never tried topping vanilla ice cream with a splash of real maple syrup, you really should–it’s lovely.

Besides watching our boys explore, Bacon Slayer and I really appreciated the musical entertainment. I dare you to try not to have a good time listening to a band where both a harmonica and a ukulele are featured instruments. It. Can. Not. Be. Done.  After collecting my maple-themed raffle winnings, (score!), we left to continue wandering.

We meandered past an iron works…

and an Iron Horse…

before driving by this! A cattle ranch! I think it goes without saying that I was very excited to see the cows!




And just to show what an awesome man that I married, Bacon Slayer asked if I wanted to stop and snap a few photos as he was in the process of doing a U-turn on the rural highway. The man knows me. I love him.

I tried my best to sneak up to the grazing cattle so as not to disturb their lunch. I’m polite like that.

The ladies didn’t seem to mind my snooping around, camera in hand.

You lookin’ at me?

But the dudes weren’t real thrilled with my presence. I gave him my best Alpha posturing and stood my ground. This guy stared me down for a good 5 minutes before decided that I was a wimp wouldn’t bother him. Once he continued grazing, I realized not only how close I was to him, but how very low the electric fence was between us. We’re talking less than two feet high! If he wanted to, that Big Bad Steer could have stepped over that fence and charged into me without a second thought.

That’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to becoming a Bull Rider.

We moved on.

Predictably, on the way home Son #1 tried to sell his daddy on starting a horse ranch.  I did my best to convince his daddy that we needed to raise cattle so that we could appreciate their majesty on a daily basis. Then, since we were already raising cattle, I suggested (again) that we raise chickens, too. Bacon Slayer was having no part of any of it. He suggested that I convince a neighbor to raise the cattle.

Obviously. If my neighbor raised cattle, then I’d get the best of both worlds! I could still gaze adoringly at the cattle from my front porch while sipping my morning chai, without having to actually take care of them.  Then after the daily caffeine-infusion kicked in, I could wander over to the pasture and give ’em a good scratch behind the ears.

The cattle, not my neighbor.

Scratching my neighbor behind the ears would just be weird.

But alas, we live in a neighborhood with a “No Livestock” clause.  I guess we’ll have to settle for daydreaming while traversing country roads.

For now. 😉

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  1. says

    Oh! Looks like so much fun and your boys are hilarious! Maybe we can visit maple syrup country sometime – I’ve always wanted to do this.

  2. says

    What a glorious day! That maple farm looks awesome and the fact that they had farm animals made it even more perfect. TCP and I also went for a drive on Saturday. We took Ziggy with us and drove the Texas Independence Trail in search of wildflowers. The weather was gorgeous and it was so relaxing. A little early for full-force bluebonnets, but we’ll try again in a few weeks. Just one more example of how we always seem to be on the same page. Hope everything settles for you soon, and things work out the way you want them to. Fingers are crossed.

    • says

      One day I’d like to see a field teaming with Texas bluebonnets. I can only imagine how breathtaking that sight must be. Thanks for the kind words. We’re chilling out a bit again, but should hear something tomorrow morning. We can deal with anything once we know what it is. :)

  3. says

    What a great day! When the girls were younger, we used to take them to a maple syrup farm every year. It’s such fun, and I agree – it makes the price of maple syrup a little more palatable.

  4. says

    Loved this post! What a wonderful outing for your family. We live in the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario. Last year was a bumper crop. This year unfortunately, due to the mild weather the harvest season was very short. I’m sure there will be a spike in the cost of the syrup! My grand-daughter loves maple syrup over her ice cream and I’ll have to remember all the household items one can use to blow bubbles (for the kids when they visit).
    Whatever is stressing you…hopefully it gets resolved in your favour soon. I keep thinking that you are buying a farm…or a house on a farm!

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words, Paula. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice to be buying a farm! The mild weather affected our syrup season as well. We were told that Michigan’s maple syrup yield is only going to be 25% of last year’s yield, which was a record year. For the Wagbo farm, that means 25,000 gallons of syrup this year, as opposed to 129,000 gallons the previous year.

      As for the bubbles, they used cheese graters, large & small mouthed funnels, a potato masher, an open ended tin can…all sorts of things I never thought to try!

    • says

      Oh, yay! Hopefully you will have great weather while you are here! I realize that you are probably just coming to see your family, but there’s a lot of stuff going on in May:
      5/4 Downtown TC Art Walk
      5/5 Sip & Savor – Leelanau wineries
      5/19-20 Blossom Days – Old Mission wineries
      5/19 Empire Asparagus Festival
      5/26 Saturdays on the Lakeshore – Ranger led hikes at Sleeping Bear Dunes (and every Saturday)
      Farmer’s Market every Saturday…

      Great time of year for your visit. Have fun with your family! :)

  5. theislandmom says

    My prayers are headed your way. Hope thinks are resolved positively soon.

    Also, can I borrow your title? It’s screaming “Short Story Title” to me, so I may just have to write one to fit with it. Seriously, I may not be able to let this one go. 😉


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