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 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.