Strong Thaw

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Tapping shadow. See the hole in the tree? Or is it?

 

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2/17/17

WEATHER: Looking back, it’s rather a blur. The sunny, mild stretch triggered a weekend sap run, then the mercury dipped enough to freeze the hoses running from here to there. Yesterday not much thawed out since the temp hovered just above freezing.

 

 

 

Today is different; at noon it is nearly 50 F. and partly sunny. The forecast shows a strong, extended thaw with no freezing nights to recharge the trees. Ring the alarm bells.

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Photo 2/22/17.  The picnic table emerges; it serves as the snow depth gauge.

BOILING STATUS: The first boil was Monday, the second is today.

SAP SWEETNESS: 1.3% sugar over the weekend, sweetening today to over 2%.

TODAY’S VOCABULARY LESSON:

RO, noun. The reverse osmosis machine which removes lots of the water from the sap before we boil it.

CONCENTRATE, noun or verb. Into the RO flows the sap; out of the RO flow two streams: the sugary sap, or concentrate, and the pure water. The RO concentrates the sap. The concentrate goes into the concentrate tank.

PERM, noun: Short for permeate, it is the pure water removed from the sap. The perm flows into the perm tank.

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The sub perches on the bank to the right of the sap shed, camouflaged by the wooden trellis.

SUB, noun. The name for our perm tank. Short for submarine, it is an old milk tank that once lay on the truck bed of a milk truck. It now stores the permeate water that we use to rinse the RO membranes.

MORNING STORY using the day’s vocabulary words:

Says Chief of Operations this morning, “I went to start the RO  and the perm line to the sub was frozen, which I didn’t know, so I blew one of the tubes the minute I tried to concentrate. I had to run a new line from the RO room up to the sub. It took me a half hour just to shovel out a path. Finally I got out the mattock to break through the encrusted snow.  I worked from midnight to three on that; thank God it worked.”

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The tappers’ exit.

Sap’s Running

Here is the long-awaited official confirmation: Sugar Season 2017 at Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm, Stowe, Vermont began on Saturday, February 18th.

What does this mean, sugar season began?

It means the maple sap began to flow
from the earth
up through the roots
into the trunk
defying gravity
up up up
to the lacy twigs
and pointy buds.

It means the sun felt warm,
the “Western goose down” snow filling the woods
got mashed by the sun and shrank by half,
the crew’s snowshoes no longer sank two feet
-just a foot-
and snow balled up under their boots.
They shed layers.

It means urgency,
especially this year since the season has come early.
Get those taps in!
Set up the water hose for cleaning tanks!

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Ladakh, India, January 2017. Our neighbor Mary Claire shared maple syrup with her new friends.

Rats, I forgot to rinse that pipe!
Find the wrench, quick!

It means no sleep for Chief of Operations.
It means social season at Nebraska Knoll.
It means the sun really did return again.

It means hope.
And work.

 

 

 

 

Today also marks the official opening of Blog Season 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out with the rusty old, In with the shiny new

Forty years we had the old smoke stack. When Lew and his friend Eric set up a crude sugar shack on Birch Hill in Stowe in the mid-seventies, a friend of Eric’s parents fashioned a stack for them in trade for syrup. It moved with the arch (salvaged forty years ago from a field on the Percy farm) to the original Nebraska Knoll sugarhouse with its cathedral ceiling and then thirty yards to the current sugarhouse. On cold boiling days the neighbors warmed their hands by holding them close to the old stack.

 

No one would choose to replace a smoke stack this tall more often than every forty years. Missing is a photo of the crew on the roof, clearing the cupola of snow and ice.

No one would choose to replace a smoke stack this tall more than once every forty years. Missing is a photo of the crew on the roof, clearing it of snow and ice in preparation for dismantling the stack.

 

Good riddance to the old stack.

Good riddance to the old stack.

 

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Section by section.

 

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At the end of a long, grubby day the crew could look up and see what they had accomplished. Sugaring work is like that.

 

 

 

 

Blowdown Day in November

Stowe photographer Paul Rogers  http://paulrogersphotography.com or INSTAGRAM  trekked into the woods in November on a day when the crew cleared fallen trees from the tubing lines. Here are a few of Paul’s photos from that day:

 

The day starts in the wood shop were Chief of Operations sharpens his chain saw.

The day starts in the wood shop were Chief of Operations sharpens his chain saw. Note the hunter’s hat. The crew works through deer season. Rifle season ended but muzzleloader season continues through December 11th.

 

On this map of the sugarbush, the crew has marked in red the problem area they came upon while repairing tubing: Tree fell over line. Dead tree at top of main line needs to be topped. Hole in line. Microburst section, many dead trees along main line.

On this map of the sugarbush, the crew has marked the main line problems: Tree down over main line. Dead tree at top of main [needs to be topped]. Hole in line. Microburst section [many dead trees along the main]. Fitting pulled apart. Manifold broken.

Ross and Lew head up the hill with 50 lb. packs laden with fittings, wire ties, extra wire, rope, tape, extra clothes, lunch - the list goes on and on. The telescoping pole over Ross's shoulder is used in place of a step ladder to maneuver a rope up the trunk in order to guide the tree to fall in a certain direction.

Ross and Lew head up the hill with 50 lb. packs laden with fittings, wire ties, extra wire, rope, tape, extra clothes, lunch – the list goes on and on. The telescoping pole over Ross’s shoulder is used in place of a step ladder to maneuver a rope up the trunk in order to guide the tree to fall in a certain direction.

 

Here is Chief of Operations hauling his chain saw and a bucket of main line tools. He

The chain saw and a bucket of main line tools.

 

It's down.

This yellow birch tree had fallen across a main line. The inside of a yellow birch smells like wintergreen.

 

It's so important to repair broken lines before the cold, snow, and ice numb up the hands and stiffen the lines. Of course, there will be fresh blowdowns by tapping time in February.

It’s so important to repair broken lines before the cold, snow, and ice numb up the hands and stiffen the lines. Of course, come February and tapping time there will be fresh blowdowns.

 

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Ross coils extra tap line tubing. This skinny blue tubing wraps around the maple trees and feeds into the main line highways. 

 

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Inserting a tee into a tap line. There’s a tool for every task somewhere in the backpack.

 

Tomorrow the crew will head up for another day of chain sawing. Will they finish? “It’s barely possible,” says Chief of Operations.

 

 

 

Apple Tree in November

WEATHER: Hazy sunshine, high in the 50’s, no wind. Too warm, but good working weather for the woods crew who’ve been busy repairing tubing.

Today’s sun reminded me of a journal entry from a year ago, The Year of the Apple Glut. In September, a syrup customer called from out-of-state to ask if she could once again fill up a basket with drops from our apple trees. I had to tell her our trees produced no apples this year – no surprise after a banner year. Last year’s glut of unharvested apples rolled down the bank onto the day lily garden, a freewill offering of mulch/compost.

 

By the Sap Shed, An Apple Tree
November, 2015
This early morning, from an upper window, I see splotches
of silver where the sun highlights the trunk. A Cortland, this tree twists
off to the left, branching at the height of a pick-up truck.

The base of the tree plugs into the ground
like little Jack Horner’s thumb in his Christmas pie.
I feel the gravity of it; it’s a dump truck of a trunk.

Facing me, a scar like a coffee coaster indicates pruning.
The tree hangs over the day lilies along the rock wall.
Every few years, Lew lops off a limb that droops too far out.

Today, the skeleton of branches and twigs belongs
in a scary children’s book, illuminated by lightning.
The tree threatens.

Or, rather, the apple tree is a callus of branches that work;
these are my hands that work. The branches erupt into fingers
of twigs, reaching for the air just beyond, never arriving.

On this Cortland tree, the twigs point toward the grass.
Bobbles of yellow-red shine among the twigs,
globes the size of, well, a small apple.

Why do so many apples never fall from the tree?

Adorning the apple globes are leaves the color of Canadian
pea soup which is more yellow than American pea soup.
They too reflect the sun.

This apple tree was a wedding present. We can’t cut it down,
even if it is shading out my beloved day lilies. Today’s beauty redeems
the transgression. Each tree, each marriage, in its own time.

The Beacon apple tree next to it, the other wedding present, presents as silver,
no bobble ornaments,
its members electrified by the sun.

 

Spider Art

Spider Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Bundts

Trout Lily

Trout Lily

To celebrate the completion of Woods Cleanup (all 9635 taps have been pulled and circa fifty miles of line rinsed) I thought I’d bake a cake, but I was out of eggs, and while I was contemplating Oh Boy Pudding that doesn’t require eggs, Maple Trout Lilli wrote in about baby bundt cakes created by a local baker who shops Nebraska Knoll.

Maple Trout Lilli writes: 

With sugaring season officially at an end, it’s time to sit back, take a cup of tea and perhaps, a slice of Vermont’s latest and greatest confection — Baby Bundts. Michelle Tomlinson of The Cakery Vermont is an incredibly talented baker and has produced photo 3these gluten-free cakes that are fantastic. Even before you take a bite, you know it will be good just by the packaging. She’s got it down. The cinnamon swirl with maple glaze, specifically, is a nod of approval to all of the local sugarmakers.

The Baby Bundt, made with Nebraska Knoll’s Dark Robust syrup, is a yellow cake with a maple syrup glaze. It can be purchased in the single or double at Commodities in Stowe, Pete’s Greens and Village Market in Waterbury or Healthy Living in Burlington.

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Pick one up and you won’t be disappointed.

-MTL

 

 

To the Falkland Islands

 

Unbidden

Every April the thought comes at me
unbidden
It’s Falkland Islands week
something in the air
the bareness of the trees
the close grasses, not yet sprung
the open pause between sugar season
and summer canopy.

This year I entered the Falklands
the day before the last boil
walking up the valley, near the Hale place
where the road crests, the valley opens
shining silver below a distant Skytop Ridge.
Other years I enter through mist.

In the Falklands
Sky, wind, sea
An absence of trees
When I’m there, no conversation either
Just walking alone across the moors
in a hand-knit gansey sweater.

Every May the song-thought comes at me
unbidden
as I drop my body, a bucket of water, and a soft cloth
into the bulk tank we call The Submarine
where we store RO water
and I sing
I’ll Know When My Love Comes Along
from Guys and Dolls
I learned along with my younger son
who played Guy Masterson
in a full school production
sixth grade

The tenderness reverberates
off the stainless steel
And no one else can hear it.

Every March the memory-thought comes at me
unbidden
standing on the concrete slab
between the filter press and the front pan
Elyse and I boiling
The news on the radio March 20th
The U.S. has invaded Iraq.

The news seared us.
Would it still?

 

I hadn’t heard of the Falkland Islands until the 1982 Falklands War when the U.K under Margaret Thatcher defended its claim to this archipelago off the coast of Argentina’s Patagonia region. I’m not surprised I felt an attraction, since the islands, though exotically remote, resemble the other islands I love, Cape Breton and Newfoundland. Apparently I cultivated the image for a few years until it grooved my brain; now, the thought fires annually as predictably as Old Faithful. Dwelling in the Falklands post-sugar season is an old, comfortable, no-longer-original fantasy.

‘Round and ’round go the sugar seasons with all they mean: weather, work rhythms, meals, community, fantasies, music, and memories.

And then in 2016 I broke my wrist the day before the first sap run, waited for and underwent surgery (an apt verb), and lived, and am living, day to day. Sound the trumpets to proclaim this rare event: a truly new experience!

A new experience making maple sugar: the syrup burned and smoked even at a low temp. What do you see in it?

We had a new experience making maple sugar: the syrup burned and smoked even at a low temp. What do you see here?

What does the mind do with the new? I have three new body projects: to heal the bone, to regain range of motion in the wrist, and to eliminate unintended muscular-skeletal pain.  My left hand has felt as far away as the Falklands, and to get there I must pass through the war zone that is my arm and wrist. When the war spread to my neck and shoulders, all media attention shifted there.

My mind notices the word ‘broken’ as it pops up in the news and everywhere. Systems of all sorts are broken: campaign finance, schools, political parties. Families are broken; diplomatic ties are broken; dreams are broken. Ouch! I feel that brokenness in my frame.

My mind notices the conflict between working on range of motion in the mind and resting the mind. It’s easy – but hard work – to do the physical range-of-motion exercises, since a therapist is showing me what to do. I alone must choose a regimen for my mind. I try out images: thick honey draining out of my strained shoulders into my arm to soften it. No…it doesn’t take. An arm of silly putty. No…not quite right. For bone healing I could run the colors: red, green, cobalt blue, opalescent white, gold. Good, but too tiring on top of a day’s chores. Resting on the prayers of others. Good, but hard. God helps those who help themselves, my parents ingrained in me.

My mind notices the value of new applications of the familiar. Why not play Cape Breton fiddle music and stepdance away the anger in my shoulders? Yes, why not? Why not imagine sailing to the Falklands? The trip would take days and weeks and would be all very new since I’m not a sailor. My accident occurred at a moment when I felt like a human sailboat as I skated on my long blades across the sweep of a mountain-backed reservoir. Why not sail back to wholeness? This April, I am simultaneously walking in the Falklands and making my way by sea to the Falklands.

-AC