Monday, April 6, 2009

What do shepherds do after all the lambs are born?

What do shepherds do after all the lambs are born?

Well, obviously, they keep feeding sheep, but what about the other twenty-two hours of the day. Ever since we moved to the country, Dave and I have spent the last part of March and most of April out in the woods making maple syrup.

We began sugaring in March of 1981, the first year we lived in our new home. Four year old Amber helped her dad drill holes in maple trees and then pound in little metal tubes called spiles. We hung big blue plastic bags under the spiles and waited for the maple sap to collect. Laurel, at nine months old, slept and played in a playpen beside the wood fired cooker in the back yard.

We were so proud of our very own, home made maple syrup.

A couple of years later, we visited friends Budd and Marguerite Andrews at their sugar bush and realized that there were better ways to make maple syrup. The most important difference was that they tapped sugar maples and all we had on our property was box elders (a type of maple with less sweet sap. With box elders we had to boil almost 60 gallons of sap to get a gallon of syrup, while Budd and Marguerite were boiling about 35 gallons of sap for each gallon of syrup.)

The next improvement we noticed was that Budd always finished the batch of syrup in his cooking pan and poured it off before adding new sap to the pan. His syrup was lighter in color and more delicate in flavor than ours.

The third improvement was that Budd carved his own spiles out of sumac wood instead of buying metal ones, and used recycled number ten tin cans instead of the blue plastic bags that we had already discovered were easily attacked and destroyed by squirrels. His sugar bush cost him nothing but time.

But the last improvement was the most life changing. Budd and Marguerite didn’t make maple syrup by themselves; they involved all their friends and relations. Sugaring lasted a month and a half and every weekend the sugar bush rang with the sound of axes, hand saws, and people laughing and talking. Weekdays had fewer visitors, and chain saws were used to get ahead on the wood pile, but the people were still there, enjoying the snow and cold, enjoying cutting and hauling wood, enjoying the smell of maple syrup and wood smoke in the air, and most of all, enjoying each other.

In 1985, we joined Budd and Marguerite at their sugar bush and we’ve been working with them ever since.

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