Monday, April 25, 2016

The Maple Kind......



My footwear has altered dramatically since the beginning of March.  Gone are the fashionable shoes worn in an office......replaced by a pair of black rubber boots....with built in handles for easy pull up!  For the past month, my "right some sexy" mud loafers have adorned my  tootsies as I have traipsed through the snowmucky woods, on my way to qualify as a "Sugar Maker."  Comfy and sweaty warm,  these practical galoshies may not be eye appealing to the discerning onlooker.

Perhaps I've had them on my feet for too long, because I have adjusted to seeing them as a funky addition to my eclectic clothes.  Or maybe its just the satisfying knowledge that inside these boots are a pair of pedicured feet with purple polished toes.  Whatever the reason, my puddle padders are now an integral part of my wardrobe.  Without them, I would have been sidelined from the annual making of the syrup.  The maple kind.  And that wasn't going to happen.

It started early this year......the gathering of the sap collecting accoutrements.....the drill, the spiles, silver metal pails, lids with long pins to attached to the spiles.....and the gathering of the folks to help set it up.  Some years, the snow is so high, you have to wear snowshoes.  Some years, you need a tractor to carry you into the woods where the sugar maples await.  This year, warm rubber boots did the trick. We were lucky. 

It took three outings to set up the 300+  sap buckets......one person drilling the hole into a mature sugar maple tree, one person to hammer the spile into the tree to access the sap, one person to hang the bucket and another to slide the pin through the lid and spile to ensure that when the sap dripped into the bucket, it would be safe from the weather and nature's creatures........as it has been done since sap collecting began.  Sometimes, the larger, older trees have two taps.  They can handle it.  They have much to provide.  Giving trees.........

Tap, tap, tap........when the sap runs, it taps out a drop with every heartbeat.  You can hear it ping against the metal.  Tap, tap, tap..... clear sweetness. 

I have learned a lot on my way to becoming a Sugar Maker.  The temperatures have to be just right.  Below freezing at night.  Above freezing during the day.  This is when the sap runs.  Too cold during the day, the heartbeat of the saps goes silent.  Nature has its own will. We adjust to it. We appreciate it's mystery and let it be the lead. It's the only way.  When the run is good, the collecting begins.  

Camp Otterdale's sugar bush is interspersed throughout the woods, in small groves.  It takes planning and energy to empty all of the buckets on a regular basis.  When the sap is running well, each bucket needs to be emptied daily.........we gather it in pails, transfer it into an enormous bin that holds 250 gallons at a time.  Once the bin is full, we take it to the Sugar Shack and pump it into the holding tank which is connected to the evaporator through hoses.  Once the tank is full, the evaporator.........a large open pan that is wood fed and fired, gets filled.  The fired is started underneath and the boiling begins.  
Did you know that in order to make 1 litre of syrup, you need 40 litres of sap??  That's a lot of collecting and boiling. 



There is a temperature it must reach before the syrup is drawn off the evaporator.........it takes patience and constant feeding of the fire to reach and to maintain it........ but during this time of waiting and working, the sugar shack fills with sweet steam, the sparks fly out the chimney high into the night air as the people involved get into a routine that includes an anticipation akin to Christmas morning...... whiskey may add to this excitable expectation......

The first time I was responsible for feeding the fire, monitoring the boil (so it would not boil over), measuring the temperature on my own, I was busy, focused, and full of determination to get it right.  You let the temperature go up to far, the all the hard work turns to crystals.  If you draw off the syrup too early, it is too thin and undercooked.  It has to be just right............ Just right...........standing in my comfie rubber boots.....with the radio on.......

To mark the occasion, I introduced fresh strawberries to dip into the hot syrup....... as close to the Divine as you can get without a visit from God herself. 



This year's maple season stretched out and into April.  Not heard of in these parts.  For some reason, we were blessed with more sap than we could process!  By the time we turned the buckets over and laid them on the ground for later pick up, we had taken turns boiling for hours......but tucked inside those hours in the sugar shack were many good conversations, stories, along with the quiet contemplation that is always reviving during this time of year, ..... when the liminal space between winter and spring offers reflection.  Good ideas are stirred out of hibernation.

Life does not often offer you an opportunity to experience the beginning, the middle and the end result of a task.  Too often, we pass on our work to another without any closure or insight into how the task evolved....... we miss out on the accomplishment.  Life doesn't often provide a chance to be fully immersed in a task either.....you know the ones when time takes on new meaning, when the whole world could be erupting but you're focused on creating.  The Maple kind.  

On Saturday, we attended a Church event that included pancakes covered in the kindness of the sugar maple from Camp Otterdale.  It was delightful to see others enjoy the unique sweetness we had mined and minded as it transformed..... From the tree's core to the human pour......  

Once again, I have learned from nature and my teacher was the ultimate giving tree...... I'm a blessed Sugar Maker in her boots, who is open to learning more.....





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