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.

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 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.

March 23

March 23, 2010

WEATHER: Another drizzly day, in the 30’s to 40. No sap run.

MACRO: A baking dish of maple syrup biscuits fresh out of the oven.

MICRO: Imperfectly round, brown biscuits swimming in hot maple syrup.

Ten minutes later, the syrup has sugared up. Spooning it onto your plate with your second helping.

Salty and sweet on the tongue, the taste of tradition.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Everyone is saying how red the hills are, but they’re not that red.”

March 21

March 21, 2010

WEATHER: Wet accumulating snow in the morning, melting snow in the afternoon, high near 40. No sap run.

SEVEN DAY NITER PRIMER, Sunday. The easy way to filter syrup is to pour it into a jug and wait. The niter settles out as sludge in the bottom of the jug. Then why don’t sugarmakers use this method? It is impossible to rinse the niter off the bottom of 30 or 40-gallon barrels, and no one wants to buy niter, not the customer who is buying a gallon nor the big distributor who pays by the pound. There is no easy way; filtering syrup is a chore. But my, how that clear syrup does glow in a glass flask by a sunny window!

ARCHIVAL JOURNAL ENTRY: March 21, 2000. Yesterday evening Lew sent 500 gallons of sap down the drain by inadvertently opening the sap tank gate valve in the RO room. Clyde and I heard an unusual clicking sound, plus the sap tank gauge wasn’t reading, but we didn’t figure it out until Lew woke up from his evening power nap.

Lew had to rebuild the pipe between the arch doors. A trip to Leo’s Welding in Moville for me.

Major flue leak while cleaning flues. Pans drained, disassembled, flues reshaped, leak soldered. Tools – buckets of sweet – guys – filth, for a few hours.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Sugar season is a cross between childbirth and a vacation.

March 20

March 21, 2010

WEATHER: Balmy this morning, chilly this evening. A northwest wind set in and suggested a change of weather. Moody skies.

SAP STATUS: No sap in the tanks.

BOILING STATUS: No boiling. Will we boil again?  No one knows. One neighbor said years ago, “Sugar season isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” We haven’t heard her yet.

SEVEN DAY NITER PRIMER, Saturday.  Larger sugaring operations filter syrup by pumping it through a filter press. First they stir diatomaceous earth into the hot syrup. DE is a white powder of one-celled organisms deposited on ancient ocean floors. It does not dissolve in the syrup but forms a suspension. The DE sticks to paper filters lining a whole rack of square metal waffles and spacers. As the syrup passes through, the DE absorbs the niter. When the filter press is full, the crew takes it apart, replacing the paper filters and dumping the waffle-like cakes of mocha residue in a bucket. Lots of light syrup can be run through the filter press before it must be cleaned, not so with the dark syrup and its slimy niter.

MACRO: Nebraska Valley kids, two boys and a girl, cooking sugar-on-snow on the picnic table in front of the sugarhouse.

MICRO: The sixth-grader spooning bubbly syrup on a bowl of snow to test it.

The high school sophomore smiling as she cuts up pickles.

The third grader rolling up sugar-on-snow on his fork for the fifty-ninth time.

March 18

March 19, 2010

The adrenaline has worn off; we are living on vapor, waiting for a second wind, then a third and a fourth. I intended to write this entry last night after the boil, but at 2:30 am it was too much. And this is my second attempt to write yesterday’s entry because I was kicked offline by the dial-up connection we in Nebraska Valley must endure, and the draft disappeared.

What with all the fatigue and commotion I am quick to forget the ongoing miracle of the sap, the trees and the sun.

WEATHER: Very poor sugaring weather, low’s in the mid-thirties, high near 60. It feels like May.

SAP STATUS: Still running, but it resembles milky whey.

SYRUP STATUS: Dropped to Grade A Dark Amber. Gallon count nearly 2300. We speculate on whether or not the season is crashing or if we will get a shot of cold weather in time. People ask, “Is it a good sugar season?” We won’t know til it’s over.

CORRECTION: Some of you may have noted that Penn Station is not on K6 but at the top of K7.

THE HILLBILLIES: From L: “These two trees are not far from Penn Station but down in the city you’d never know they existed. They are at the top of a steep wanderlust line that goes through nothing for a ways. Then you see them, healthy but scraggly, dancing away at the top of the knoll, all moonshined up.”

SEVEN DAY NITER PRIMER: Thursday. Backyard sugarmakers, tapping just a few trees, may filter out the niter with cheesecloth draped over a colander. A more sophisticated apparatus is the filter tank. This tank is a high, rectangular metal box.Inside, three thick felt cones hang from a frame like upside-down dunce caps. You take paper filters, like coffee filters but in the shape of the dunce caps, and fasten them to the felt cones with clothes pins. Then you pour the hot pail of syrup into the cone and close the lid. You can hear the syrup dripping onto the bottom of the tank.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “In thirty-five years I’ve never seen a sugar season like this one.”

MUSIC TO BOIL BY: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

March 17

March 18, 2010

WEATHER: A decent freezing night last night, getting down to 26 for seven or eight hours. Today was the mildest yet, in the low 50’s and sunny. Good run.

MORNING CRISIS: Blew a hose trying to start up the RO before the line to the permeate tank thawed out. Down at the hardware store impatiently buying five feet of new hose, I told the owner it was a sugaring crisis and he said that’s all he’s been dealing with these days.

KEYSTONE, continued. The tubing here is state-of-the-art. Eight main lines run vertically up from the big main like tree trunks, and the skinny tap lines run into them like branches. Each tap line has only five to eight taps. The terrain dictates the layout: in a gentle bowl at the top of K6, many many tap lines converge at Penn Station.

SEVEN DAY NITER PRIMER, Wednesday. Technically, niter is malate of lime. It is not toxic but it could give you the runs. Some people prefer their syrup with the niter in it. They’ll catch the syrup in their cups as it is pouring off the evaporator and drink it straight up.

DRIVEWAY MACRO: Mud or mud-covered ice bordered by receding snowbanks, tall pines or brooks.

DRIVEWAY MICRO: All you hear is water flowing: spring runoff. All you feel is cold air emanating from the brooks.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “What is the other mistake I keep making? My mind is in such a fog I can’t think of it.”

March 16

March 18, 2010

WEATHER: Below freezing (27) for four hours last night, high today in high 40’s.

SAP STATUS: This warm weather sap is no longer as clear as a glacial lake.

SYRUP STATUS: As a result, the grade has dropped. Today we made borderline A Medium Amber/A Dark Amber syrup.  Passed the 2000 gallon mark today.

TOUR OF THE SUGARBUSH, continued: Starting back at the sugarhouse we’ll hike up to Keystone, the parcel of state-owned land we are tapping for the first time. This parcel fits between Morningside and the MainMain like a keystone, or like the space between the two arms of the letter V.

Keystone Main Line follows Herbie’s Highway, named after Herbie Leach who hauled logs out on this logging road in the 70’s and early 80’s. It ascends steeply at first, then moderates where it cuts close to Falls Brook. Just before  the Falls Brook crossing, we will leave Herbie’s Highway and follow the mainline up another logging road. The entire south and south-east flank of mountainside to our right is Keystone. The woods feel spacious and welcoming to hikers and snowshoers. There are many beautiful maples. Presiding over the higher, rougher terrain is The Old Foreman.

SEVEN DAY NITER PRIMER, Tuesday. The quality of the niter indicates how far along sugar season has progressed. During those early runs there is little niter, you don’t see it except as it sticks to the pans. If a sugarmaker dips her scoop into the trough and what comes up is half syrup and half sugar sand, she knows early season is over. She is happy to see the coarse, gritty sugar sand since it means the season is here to stay for awhile. And heavy, sandy niter filters well.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: ” M says to tell you she’s bringing dinner up.”