Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Instincts


Photo by Jenny Ellison

The day before Easter we pulled the taps from the maple trees, washed the cans we collected sap in and the pans in which we boiled it. We stacked the split fire wood neatly and covered it. We’d boiled off the last syrup earlier in the week and the sap hadn’t run since then.

Even though we’d only finished 50 quarts of syrup compared to 200 quarts last year, it felt like time to close the sugarbush for the year. We’d heard the spring peepers croaking in the swamps and the sand hill cranes flew across the sky. Saturday, we found bloodroot in bloom, a sure sign that sugarbush was over. Every year the blood root bloom as we dismantle our syruping operation. Our instincts had been right.

Monday morning, I walked out of the barn in the pouring rain to feed Simone and let the chickens out of the pen for the day. Simone’s instincts told her that the square shape in the musty smelling green flapping poncho should not be trusted. She recognized the bottle and my voice, but I looked wrong and smelled wrong. She wasn’t about to get close enough to nurse. I took off the poncho to feed her.

The next day Newton and I walked the hayfield through the still damp grasses. He darted from side to side, nose busy following fresh scents – deer, fox, gopher. Suddenly he stopped, threw himself to the ground and wriggled ecstatically. I can’t begin to imagine what instinct causes a dog to roll himself in poop, but it sure stunk.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Maple syrup spring

It has been a strange spring. The sap hasn't run well. We'll have a day of almost perfect weather (nights below freezing and days in the 40's) and the sap will begin to run, but the next day will be too warm or too cool and no sap will run. We should have perhaps tapped our trees in February when the weather was perfect for an entire week, but we were in the middle of lambing and it was after all, almost a month too early. Even with global warming, we didn't expect the sap run to be three weeks early. This year we haven't known from one day to the next whether the sap would run. So we checked the trees every morning, and if the sap ran, we collected it, concentrated it and boiled it down to syrup. If it didn't run, we returned to our normal lives for a day or two and then rechecked the trees.

Over the winter, Dave built a reverse osmosis concentrator to take 2/3's of the water out of the sap. It worked well, cutting our use of firewood drastically. Even with boiling the concentrated sap hard to syrup, we ended the season with more split wood than we had when we began - and almost unheard of event.

We haven't harvested much sap this spring, but we have had a wonderful time in the woods and that is after all, what sugaring is all about.  It's about learning to recognize the difference between chickadees flitting branch to branch and the nuthatches who hop up and down the trunks of trees looking for insects - both small black and white birds, but with completely different habits.

Sugarbush is about the joy of drinking sweet tree juice right from the tap.

video

                                                                      video by Leah Rassmussen

Spring in the maple woods is the haunting calls of long skeins of swans high in the sky heading north, and the chuckle of sand hill cranes in the thawing swamps.

Sugaring is about inhaling the smell of woodsmoke and hot maple as we pour a 2' X 3' pan of finished syrup into a metal bucket.

Mostly, sugarbush is a time to sit in the sun and converse with the people who gather in the woods for reasons similar to ours. It is a slice out of time where chores at home don't get done, our lives are full to overflowing, and yet, we relax, slip back into a less pressured time and just enjoy being alive.