Western Mass. is gorgeous in the fall. The environment is saturated with the reds, oranges and golds of the leaves that crunch underfoot. Endless expanses of fields stretch out in all directions, ripe with fruits and vegetables ready for harvesting. But on Main Street in Sunderland, more than just crop-raising happens in these fields. Every year, farmer Mike Wissemann and his friend, artist Will Sillin, transform the cornfields at Warner Farm into an extensive and intricate corn maze.
The pair have been an artistic team since 2000, when they debuted with their own rendering of the Minuteman found on a Massachusetts collectible quarter. Every maze since created has pushed their talents further. In the past, they’ve recreated everything from the Mona Lisa to a Campbell’s soup can. This year’s maze is equally as mind-boggling: it depicts Noah Webster, writer of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, with giant letters carved out all around him.
As Wissemann and Sillin’s creative energy has increased, they’ve developed precise maze-creating techniques to match their larger-than-life ideas. They use a grid system to plan out their design, taking away the stalks of corn one at a time to make sure their finished product looks perfect and photo-worthy. By the time the end of October rolls around, the maze has swapped its pristine green rows for well-worn trails and bending, yellowed stalks, but this is to be expected considering the 10,000 annual customers. The majority of them come on the two long weekends for which the maze remains open: Labor Day and Columbus Day.
Part of Sillin’s yearly contribution also includes creating a game for visitors to play as they navigate the maze. Fittingly, this year’s is word themed and does a great job of integrating all age levels. Younger maze-goers can play a word matching game contained within Webster’s portrait. Children just learning the alphabet can stay in the northern area of the maze and keep track of which letters they find there. More advanced players can roam the entire maze to solve the clues given within each corn letter, then find the corresponding answer in a word search. The more words and letters found, the more points — and points earn the coveted prize of a pumpkin or gourd right from the farm.
While the maze is the main attraction, there are also lots of farm animals sure to delight all ages. The tickle of a baby goat nibbling a cone full of feed right out of your hand proves oddly satisfying. There’s even a horse-drawn wagon for a truly unique view of the surrounding area. And as always, the farm sells the fresh, high-quality produce that’s come to characterize the Pioneer Valley. It’s much too easy to spend an entire afternoon here, basking in the warm shadow of Mount Sugarloaf and enjoying the crisp fall air with friends and family.
This year, to celebrate their 10th anniversary, the maze may have something extra special in store for Halloween weekend. Conscious of their sizeable college student demographic, the management has proposed special night hours during which visitors would traverse the maze with flashlights. It’s not definite yet, but they’ll be keeping prospective attendees posted via their website, mikesmaze.com.
Mike’s Maze is the very essence of a perfect fall day in New England. It’s just $8 to visit with a student ID. Adults pay $9 and children from 4-to-12 are $7, while those younger than 4 are free. The maze runs on weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — but only until the end of October.
Lindsey Tulloch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.