We started tapping out our sugarbush on February 16th and finished by moonlight on the 25th. That’s the day the sap started to run. Sugaring is like back-to-back marathons, and this year we got no time to warm up before the race.
This is the year of the new: new taps on state land, new-fangled taps, new sap shed, new sap tanks, new vacuum pump, new reverse osmosis machine. I feel like a spectator gaping at the latter two. But Lew isn’t gaping, he’s tackling one crisis after another. New sugaring equipment doesn’t come with operating instructions. But then again, sugarmakers are inherently an independent, resourceful bunch, darn good at figuring things out.
So the weather has been good for early season – only
about 30 at night and mid-30’s by day. Sugaring is an exercise in giving up control, starting with the weather.
Above all, sugaring is a privilege.
Weather: Low last night: 30 degrees. High today 35. Northwest wind. Mostly sunny. Sap ran, no boiling.
Morning crisis: Flood of sap in the pump room. Noone shut the door at 5 am when yesterday’s boil ended, so the string that triggers the release tank to release froze up, and the sap didn’t have anywhere to go.
Quote of the Day: “There is so much to be thinking of all at the same time, my mind is putty.”
Snow Quality: corn snow.
Macro: Blue skies at last.
Micro: The guys heading up into the bush on snowshoes to check lines, wearing sunglasses.
Weather: Low last night 19, high today 36, bluebird. Sap ran from 11 am to 5 pm.
Boiling Status: Fourth day of boiling today, boiled sap from yesterday and today. Caught up on sap for first time.
Syrup Status: Up to 750 gallons, all Fancy, Coty Classic.
Remarks: The niter is what we filter out of the syrup. It is also called sugar sand; it is not always sandy but today we could scoop up abundant amounts of light golden sugar sand that had settled in the syrup troughs. To us it indicates a shift from early season, when there isn’t much niter at all, to middle season.
WEATHER: Low last night 17, high today 40, bluebird. The sort of early March day when those locals who haven’t yet thought about sugaring feel the warmth of the sun on one side of the face and the nip of a cool breeze on the other and mutter to themselves, “I’ll bet the sap is running today.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The sap is so clear it shines.”
BOILING STATUS: Boiled down that shiny sap into Ultra Fancy syrup, a whole grade lighter than Fancy. Not just the color changes, but the nature of the bubbles in the pan too. It’s disconcerting how they don’t pucker and pop like ordinary Fancy bubbles, until you realize, that’s right, ultra is always tricky to read.
MACRO: Sugarhouse built into the side of a hill.
MICRO: Scrape of metal on metal: the iron rake pulling cold ashes over the heavy grates.
MUSIC TO BOIL BY: Hank Williams honky-tonk
WEATHER: Froze again last night, quickly warmed up this morning, high 43 and sunny. Sap could run several more hours, since at 10 pm it is still above freezing, 36 degrees.
THINGS THE GUYS CARRY IN THEIR PACKS TO CHECK LINES:
Old-style drillbit for tapping missed trees
Hammer for pounding in the spout
Japanese folding saw for clearing small blowdowns
Masking tape, good substitute for a bandaid
Extra caps, tees, splicers
A contraption called the third hand
The red fitting tool
Water bottle and food
MACRO: Woods full of strong tree-shadows on snow.
Air around sugarhouse saturated with maple fragrance.
WEATHER: Never froze last night, sap ran all night and all day today, but not a spectacular run.
BOILING STATUS: Today was Day Seven. Last year this date, March 8th, was our first day of boiling.
SYRUP STATUS: Up over 1100 gallons, all Fancy.
INTRODUCING...The Main Main, our central mainline in what we call "the old bush". The wends its way circuitously up and around Nebraska Knoll, branching at The Cache, a wooden storage box on a plateau of stately ash trees intermingled with sugar maples. One branch passes through a saddle - that's the Saddle Line; the other branch ascends to The Podium.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You know that doesn't drain the hose, you have to disconnect it at the Y and drain it from there. Otherwise you're only draining half the hose."
WIND FROM THE NORTH, SAP FLOWS FORTH
WIND FROM THE EAST, SAP FLOWS LEAST
WIND FROM THE SOUTH, SAP'S A DROUGHT
WIND FROM THE WEST, SAP FLOWS BEST
WEATHER: Today had it all: Wind from the northwest, freezing night last night, full sun, temp. in the high 30's. The best run of the year, but short, since the lines froze up at dusk. The Morningside taps woke up today.
Part way up the MAIN MAIN, a lesser main line called Ledge Line joins up with it. Ledge Line hugs the contour, past the ledges, past the Plaza, all the way to the Gulch. The Gulch is not "a steep-walled valley cut by a swift-running stream" as its name suggests; it is a cozy nook between a pretty ledge and a rough slope. Follow the Gulch to its highest point and its a short walk down and across to the Cache.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The big thing about sugaring is knowing when to work and when to sit down."
MACRO: An audible wind today.
Shade at the base of trees, sun on the crowns.
MICRO: Old, pockmarked corn snow peppered with hemlock twigs, needles, seeds and beech leaves.
Calls of Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee and Phoebe, Phoebe.
Sparks emitted from sugarhouse swim into the night sky like orange tadpoles
WEATHER: Low last night 20, high today 40, bluebird. Another in a string of true sugaring days.
TOUR OF THE SUGARBUSH, CONTINUED: Walk back through the Gulch down the slope to NORTH CONNECTION, a mainline curving around the knoll at a lower tier than Ledge Line, above a cliff draped with dirty icicles, home to porcupines. Now you're on Dome Road near a tree called Old Suzanna, formerly tapped by the sugarmaker before us who gathered sap with his horses. She's now in retirement.
REPORT FROM THE FIELD CREW: Snowshoes are no longer necessary for checking lines, except at the top of the Keystone lines.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Another perfect draw, number seven!!!" (stay tuned)