April 5

April 5, 2010

WEATHER: Returned to the 30’s Sunday night, high today 60, and that felt cool after a torrid weekend.

THE FAR CORNER OF THE SUGARHOUSE: As you enter the sugarhouse, to the left is the smokestack ascending from the end of the arch. The arch is 12′ by 4′, so walk the 12 feet to the other end of the arch and you are at the firebox. Turn to your left and walk 2 feet: the thick black firebox door will be on your left, a pile of wood for stoking the arch will be on your right. Behind the wood are doors to the woodshed. All of this you will notice readily. The sugarhouse is built into the bank, so the wall facing you is cement up to about 6 feet, and above that are a row of high windows.

In the dark corner behind the wood are the medieval tools, black and silent. There is the heavy black iron rake used for scraping the ashes off the grates; it is a right-angled piece of iron with an 8-foot pole. There is the heavy black flue brush, much longer and with a doughnut-shaped brush at the end. There is a crowbar and a black square shovel.

To clean the ashes, you will want to put on the sooty Johnson wool jacket, the sooty wool hat to match, ratty old gloves and a face mask. Grab a flashlight and drag the ashes bucket around to the firebox. Reach for the long heavy rake in the corner, then open the bulky door to the firebox. It will creak and groan. Drag the rake across the thick grates, slowly, rhythmically, clankily, feeling your way, scraping across centuries of fireboxes and ashes.

CLEANUP  will go on for longer than anyone would wish. After the woods work comes the scrubbing down of every square inch of equipment and the sugarhouse.

IN THE WOODS  the spring beauties are blooming on the forest floor. Their blossoms are dainty and white, with pink stripes. Next will emerge the yellow violets.

It is time to pick wild leeks, also called ramps. They grow in patches only in certain spots. We have only one leek patch in our sugarbush, up on Keystone. Their flavor is more intense than that of other leeks. I usually saute them in butter and add them to whatever I am preparing. As the first fresh green vegetable of the year they taste like pure vitality.

AND SO ENDETH this blog titled SUGAR SEASON 2010.

THE QUEBECOIS  say it best: “C’est la maladie du printemps.”

April 3 and 4

April 3, 2010

 THE MAPLE TREE

The following is a small piece of the Iroquois Creation Story, as told to me by Sylvia, Mohawk Nation, August, 2004. Here is her telling:

Sky Woman (Grandmother Moon) came to this world pregnant. She gave birth to Original Woman (Mother Earth). Original Woman ended up sacrificing herself in childbirth so that life on earth could begin.

After her death, Original Woman was placed in the ground:

1. From her head grew tobacco that it might be burned and be the visible representation of our thought and prayers to the Spirit World (helpers) and the Great Mystery.

2. From her heart grew the heart berry (strawberry) that we would have blood, family connections, seeds and a connection to the earth (natural world).

3. From her body grew the Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash), the main sustenance of the Iroquois.

4. From her lower body grew the Maple Tree. The Maple Tree provides us with sweet cleansing water.

The Maple Tree is the leader of all trees. It leads by example and shows the trees how to work with Mother Earth and the seasons – when the sap will flow, when to bud, when to unfurl, when to seed, when to color, when to fall and when to begin again. The only element that all life needs is water. The Maple stands to teach us to respect and care for our water, as it is a sacred gift. The Iroquois believe that each stand of maples has a head female and a head male tree. These two are often the oldest amongst the stand of trees.

To this day, the Iroquois recognize and honor the Maple as a leader and hold a ceremony at tapping/syrup time to remember how important the Maple is to our life, how it came as a gift to the People from Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon, Sky World, and the Great Mystery.

April 2

April 2, 2010

 

WEATHER: Paralyzingly hot.

THE CROP IS IN. Syrup is the first agricultural crop of the year.

SOME DATA:  87% of the crop was made by March 19.

In 1988 we also finished up on April 1. In 2000 the last day was March 23.

March 26 was the only frozen day in March – this is new, and newsworthy.

PHASE I: Tapping, Feb. 16-25

PHASE II: Boiling, Feb. 28-April 1

PHASE III: Cleanup, April 1- ?  There is no resting until all the taps have been knocked out of the trees and rinsed. With all this hot weather it is especially imperative that we finish this task quickly.

Cleanup began yesterday evening when Lew hiked into the sugarbush to set up the water stations with sections of plastic pipe. The station near the Podium uses a spring; the two stations over on Morningside plug into a small brook.

We carry backpack fruit sprayers that hold four gallons each and walk up one line and down the next. At each tree we pull out the spout with a special tool,  fit the nozzle of the sprayer over the spout and give it a little squirt. Then we twist the spout onto its fitting where it stays until next February. 

This tubing cleanup is good work. It offers an opportunity to thank  each tree and to wish it well for the summer. And the woods feel alive and hopeful.

MACRO and MICRO: Peepers.

NEWS FROM THE VILLAGE: A 93 year-old friend exclaims over goldfinches drinking from a melting icicle.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The horses are looking a little rough.”  (so said a Hinesburg farmer and sugarmaker at the tail end of sugar season. When I worked for him in the ’70’s  he gathered the sap buckets with his team of horses pulling a sled.)

April 1

April 1, 2010

MORNING QUOTE: “You think you’ve seen every imaginable thing that could go wrong until something’s thrown at you that’s devastating.”

FIVE MINUTES LATER: “I can’t believe I did that! If that doesn’t ever take the cake!  [expletives deleted]

A NEW MISTAKE!  We stopped collecting sap at 2:30 a.m. since it had turned milky, and in the morning Lew ran the reverse osmosis machine as usual. But he directed the concentrated sap into a tank already three-quarters filled with pure water (permeate). That perm water was supposed to be for the final RO rinse of the year. Tap water is not pure enough, and rinsing the RO is one of those extremely important, behind-the-scenes chores.

WHAT TO DO? Drain and rinse the contaminated tank, and start over in hopes that enough raw sap remains to create a sufficient volume of permeate water.

WEATHER: Downright hot, I but forgot to look at the thermometer.

BOILING STATUS: Day 19 I think. The last day in 2010 of firing up the arch.

SYRUP STATUS: Total gallon count: 2752, or .41 gallons of syrup per tap. We have done better only twice in the past. We ended on Grade A Dark. Our neighbor who does backyard sugaring took away the sweet ( a noun) remaining in the front pan. She will boil it down in a homestyle rig in her family’s garage.

ARCHIVAL END-OF-SEASON NOTES: …am feeling end-of-the-year symptoms. My mind feels unsteady – I must remind myself that when sugaring is over I will be able to think clearly again. Perspective on problems becomes distorted several weeks into sugaring….Absent-minded. Thought I could fill the wash tank for the RO in my sleep – not so…..The weepy part of sugar season. all seems unfortunate, impossible…..Will I one day feel nostalgic for this day of sitting in the corner of the sugarhouse, on Day Twenty-Two, feeling incredibly sleepy and aching as I hear the Mama’s and Papa’s harmonize? ….I cannot cope with the English language…

MACRO: Snowmelt from Mt. Bend is still feeding Falls Brook.

MICRO: Walking down the driveway toward the valley, warm air against the cheek. Walking up the driveway, cold mountain air against the cheek.

MUSIC TO BOIL BY: Hank Williams, honky-tonk country.

March 31

March 31, 2010

WEATHER: Low in the 30’s, high today 46, overcast, breezy.

SAP STATUS: The sap keeps running day and night, tapering off during the night. Today it ran less than yesterday, a predictable result of no freezing nights. The sap is very weak, like most end-of-season sap.

BOILING STATUS: Day 18. The syrup is a bit darker than yesterday’s, no surprise.

THE FAT LADY has been warming up for a few days; we expect to hear her  break into her aria tomorrow. She is not the only fat one – the maple buds are fat and swollen. And the rhubarb is coming up, the red-winged blackbirds are back, and the woodsy section of the driveway is past mud season. Old-timers speak of the frog run, when the last sap run coincides with the sound of the first peepers. I only recall a few frog runs in the thirty years we’ve been sugaring here, occurring in mid to late April.

DINNER IN THE SUGARHOUSE, post script: At the same time we’re hidden away from the whole world, we are firmly at the center of the whole world – the sugarhouse during a night boil.

THE CREW:  The neighborhood boys who ran up after school day after day to fill their Dixie cups with hot syrup and then tear around our place – climbing on the woodpile, making forts up near the cupola, pushing each other on the barrel dollie  – are now in their twenties: strong, alert and keen on sugaring. This year we have two main guys who live across the way. We’ll call them at 9:30 am and say we need help starting at 2:30 pm, or we may not know until 2:30 pm that we need help at 6 pm. It’s impossible to plan ahead. When they get here, we can’t even tell them when the work day will end – it could be 8 pm or 2 am.

Many other younger Nebraska Valley kids, girls and boys, help out part-time serving sugar-on-snow, stacking wood, scrubbing, cleaning tubing, canning syrup, making maple cream and sugar and working in the woods.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Yuhhhhh,” spoken musically and with finality.

March 30

March 31, 2010

WEATHER: Low in the 30’s, high today 41, rainy.

SAP STATUS: The sap has been running since Monday morning, in particular the Keystone and Maresan taps.

BOILING STATUS: Today is Day 17. We started around noon and at this posting are still boiling. Since it’s a cool rainy day, the sugarhouse seems especially cozy. The rain pushes the steam down. From the main road one-third mile away, tufts of white steam accent the somber hillside. On warmer days the steam dissipates more readily.

PRACTICAL LESSON OF THE DAY: Remember to wear a thick shirt or a Johnson wool jacket with long sleeves when you are drawing syrup from the pans or stoking. I stripped down to a thin cotton shirt with long sleeves and spilled boiling hot sap onto my arm while scooping from the back pan. Better to perspire than to risk a burn. (Mine was not serious.)

SUPPER IN THE SUGARHOUSE: Meatloaf, sweet potatoes and salad brought up by the mother of the crew, biscuits baked in maple syrup for dessert. Some of us sat on the back bench, dangling our legs and feeling hidden away from the whole world.

ARCHIVAL JOURNAL ENTRY, March 30, 2005: W  McG, a first-grader, ate copious amounts of foam rising off the sap in the float box, exclaiming, “This tastes like regular foam!”

March 28

March 28, 2010

WEATHER: Yesterday sparkled – the sun was warm and the air chilly, staring the day at 5 degrees, climbing to 34. No sap run, just too cold.

Last night’s low was 26 and today was overcast, high 38. The sap ran poorly this afternoon but the run is picking up this evening. It is raining.

VERMONT MAPLE OPEN HOUSE WEEKEND: Nine years ago the state maple organization initiated this event, copying what Maine has been doing for years. Some visitors hop from sugarhouse to sugarhouse; some stop in at just one, for sugar-on-snow or to soak up the steam. Momentum for this event grows each year. I met a few families who now plan their Vermont vacations around open house weekend.

MACRO: A steady flow of visitors all weekend.

MICRO: A three-year old picking up a long dangly wad of sugar-on-snow with his fingers and not being able to cram it into his mouth.

March 26

March 26, 2010

WEATHER: High today 20, sunny and nippy. No sap run.

VERMONT OPEN HOUSE WEEKEND: We’ll be boiling tomorrow, Saturday, after 11 am, and serving sugar-on-snow from 10 til 4.

FIRSTS: First time this March that we’ve had a freeze-up.

First time this March that I have seen and heard a tree full of birds.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: What would you rather be: a flame, a gust of wind, a brook, or soil?

March 25

March 25, 2010

WEATHER: It did finally freeze last night, and warmed up quickly to 50, bluebird until the afternoon. Evening drizzle, still 40 at 10 pm and raining hard. Predicted to turn radically colder overnight.

SAP STATUS: All the bustle and bluster last evening were for only a few inches of sap in the tanks. The run petered out, and by 5 pm the lines froze. By 9 am the ice began to belch out of the main lines into the vacuum tub. We stayed by the tub to ensure that the pump could keep up with this alarming torrent of loose sap ice.

The new lines ran well today, Keystone and Maresan, partly due to being cold taps – higher on the hill or with a northern exposure.

NOTES FROM THE SUGARBUSH, from our interns who walked lines with the crew:

MACRO: I thought it ws really beautiful. It was great to be there.

MICRO: How easy it is for R to get up the hill!

Lots of deer poop.

Drinking sap directly from the tree.

Intricate network of tubing.

That tool – the red tool – is so cool.

Watching the bubbles – they’re like little passengers.

Got some cinnamon fern.

The brook.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: I found a lot of Huperziceae [common name: fur moss] with intact spores that look like yellow moons.

March 24

March 24, 2010

WEATHER: It snowed overnight and stayed in the high 20’s until mid-afternoon, when the skies cleared and the temp. rose into the mid-thirties. This is the closest we’ve come to a freezing day in March.

Snow and cold today and predictions for a warmer day tomorrow – the recipe for a run. Less than an hour ago my plan was to get to bed. But I checked the thermometer, and it was hovering around 34. So I checked the sap shed and the lines were running. Quick, fetch a pail of hot water! Quick, connect the outdoor hose! Quick, run up to the sap shed and turn off the release pump, open vacuum tubs and scrub away! Away, sleepiness! Welcome, adrenaline rush!

Imagine a faucet in your house that you cannot control. It runs when it so desires; sometimes it trickles, other times it gushes.

Now the thermometer reads 36. And there is ice on the puddles and stars in the sky, and a moon. And the vacuum pump is now on, setting off a night of chores.

Every couple of years we have a run like this that starts in the night. This one could choke off later tonight, although I doubt it will.

And so our second season commences…

QUOTE OF THE DAY: It’s such a tease.