Friday, 9 March 2012

Maple Syrup

Syrup season

I’ve never had much success in fathoming the depths of God but I think I’ve identified His greatest Practical joke. That would be Maple Syrup.

For years I thought the stuff was great. Anything from Pancakes to 2x4’s (2 parts maple syrup, four parts Crown Royal) was to die for. I never knew how close to the truth that was.

That sweet amber liquid shining through the bottle and then soaking into my very soul was merely addictive bait. Any human being with taste buds will go a long ways to keep a good supply of it. When I got the chance to participate in my first syrup season the punch line hit me like a different kind of 2X4.

I’d start at the beginning, but there is no beginning. It’s all one continuous joke. I’ll start with Autumn. Right about then the leaves fall off of trees. That makes maple trees look like oak trees and basswood trees and regular maple trees as opposed to sugar maple trees, especially to those of us who are not all that tree savvy.

Normally that’s not much of a problem. When it comes to tree tapping it becomes one. Most trees don’t produce maple sap. Time spent tapping anything but sugar maple trees is not time well spent and is harmful to the product. The boss guy looking over your shoulder will let you know all about that .The right trees are found only on steep hill sides. They are guarded by randomly placed boulders and fallen trees. Add a few animal holes to the picture and remember the scene. Soon the next season, winter, will come.

The majestic white drifts of snow fill the woods and create a graceful wonderland. By syrup season there is likely to be around three feet of majesty hiding all those items I told to you to remember. Do you now remember EXACTLY where they were?

Don’t worry you’ll find them soon enough if you’re collecting maple sap..

In the old days that came as you were carrying a five gallon bucket or two of sap down the steep hillside. Too often the result was a face first snow angel.

Angel probably is an appropriate word to utilize at this point because it was then that sap gathering became a truly religious experience. At least it is the time when God’s name is most likely to be vocalized. It’s real hard to retrieve spilled sap from a majestic snow drift.

Nowadays we avoid those pratfalls by tapping the trees and attaching tubing to the taps.. Gravity carries the sap down to a collection point without spilling a drop.. At least it does if you have spent a week or so dealing with Heavenly intervention.

Even if you have memorized where all of the rocks, logs, and holes are, God will have added a few more. The rocks don’t move. Trees do fall and nearly everyone will fall across one of those lines from the taps, interrupting the work of gravity. Animals are never satisfied with living in last year’s hole. You will discover their new real estate claims while repairing the damage caused by the newly fallen trees. You will make new face-first snow angels and talk to God some more.

On the bright side, which you will be up early enough to see arrive every day during the season; the evaporation of the sap into syrup is fairly easy. All you have to do is carry wood through the snow and ice to the wood stove under the vat for about twelve hours a day. Since days are shorter in the spring you can pretty much count on bracketing the bright side with darkness.

The only part of the production process that includes boiling and tasting and bottling and such that you need to remember is that little bit about carrying wood to the fire twelve hours a day. Got any idea how much wood you can use up in a couple of weeks with that kind or persistency? Got any idea where that wood came from?

Spring turns to summer and it is time to replenish the wood supply. Another event that occurs during the early summer, when you need to cut that wood to make sure it is nice and dry for syrup season, is called the hatch. That is when the mosquito, the black fly, the no-see-um, and all of their friends make their annual appearances. Of course they will only be a problem for a few weeks before they become a little less voracious. In that same few weeks you will be cutting wood in the forest. Guess where our little friends like to hang out.

Splitting and stacking the wood is relatively easy, though it’s nice to cool down with a 2X4 or two at the end of the day. In fact there are so many nice things to do with that maple syrup that you are bound to use up a good portion of what you made. You’ll probably want to get some more put up in the spring.

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