Friday, March 20, 2009

A Gentle Steward's Sugar House I

There are numerous announcements of spring... sprouting green shoots, tiny drips of snowdrops, clocks set ahead into warmer longer days and returning woodcocks to open fields, and fields of dried up old stalks of hay. There is another stirring within the trees... especially ones I hold dear for they are so near to my old house and wherein live a hive of wild honeybees. I speak of the rock maple also known as sugar maple, and as I walk up a close by neighboring hillside, passing neatly cut and stacked wood and buckets hanging from many rock maples, my eyes follow the sugar steam trailing from the cupola of a country gentleman's sugarhouse.
Spring is nearly here and maple sugaring season is upon us.

Roger is the 'gentle'man's name and as a child he would tag along with his father, while he used a bit brace to drill holes into rock maples about hip height up the tree, and then place a tap into the drilled hole, hang a bucket and move on to the next tree. In the old days after chores were finished his father and uncles would hook up sleighs to their horses and load storage tanks onto them then drive the horses into the sugar orchards. They would walk up to the farthermost trees wearing a hand carved, basswood sap yoke fitted over their shoulders, with ropes and hooks that held gathering pails. Emptying buckets into pails and then carrying them to the storage tanks was very labor intensive. After all the buckets had been emptied, they would ride back down to the sugarhouse and boil the sap in an old iron kettle hanging from a beam that Roger and his siblings helped push back and forth over the fire via the holding chains. They would do the final refined boil in the house and then bottle the syrup. In those days there could be two runs, the second being gathered in the afternoon. Nowadays, gathering the sap is mostly done only once around tea time and the boiling continues into the early evening.

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