Another Use for Maple

In my earlier posting, I promised to give regular progress reports about building my new shop. Well, not much has happened. I did fill out the permit application, but other activities have stalled further progress.

Late Winter/early Spring around here is known as “sugaring season,” as that is when the sugar maples drop sap from any fresh wound; sap which if boiled down 40 times yields maple syrup. It’s hard to believe that this is a productive, even lucrative, enterprise, but it is surely a cure for cabin fever. Besides, all the back roads are rutted two feet deep in mud of the type that eats small imported cars and SUV’s driven by people who don’t know how to use them. Best to just stay at home and get out in the sun and gather sap. Then sit by the fire and wait for the sap to boil down to a brown sticky sweetness and when it is just right, pour off a gallon at a time to be filtered and canned for sale or home use. This has cured my lingering teenage desire to sit around a fire and copper kettle making moonshine whiskey!

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past two weeks. We would gather with our horse pulling a scoot or large sled with a 65 gallon tank on it, then boil all evening, often until midnight and beyond, so that we are ready to do it all over again the next day. We gathered from about 200 taps and made 26 gallons of syrup before we ran out of wood, including all the scraps I could bear to burn from the shop.

The wood ran out a couple days ago, so I’ve been catching up on sleep and starting to saw lumber at the mill. I cut a maple log from our woods into 1″ thick boards for flooring in the new shop. I found three holes and green bacteria stains about halfway through the milling. These are, of course, tap holes from some long ago sugarmaker. When I found the first two holes, I was still able to count the rings from there out to the bark on another side of the log. The holes were made about 50 years ago when the tree was about 10″ in diameter. There is an old fallen down sugar house and arch out in the woods about 1/4 mile from where this tree once stood. An old farmer in the area remembers that same sugar house in use back in the 50’s, but thinks that it was abandoned before the end of the decade. That might explain why the tree was only tapped for three years.

I am curious to find out who that sugarmaker was, what else he did for a livelihood, and if he lived on the land he sugared. It is often easy to see the marks of man left on the landscape: stone walls, old roads, cellar holes and the like, but to come into contact with those that have been before me in the middle of a tree is a rather unique experience. There are surely similarities between us, yet the differences are equally notable. I am reminded to be thankful for my new Lithium ion battery powered cordless drill. It is a little noisier, but a lot easier to use than the cordless drill he used 50 years ago.

I don’t offer Maple syrup on my website, but I do offer other maple products.


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