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.

photo 1

Pick one up and you won’t be disappointed.




To the Falkland Islands



Every April the thought comes at me
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
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
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.



Mallards and Maples

As mentioned in previous years on this blog, sugar season is not over until the fat lady sings.  This aria is what I heard her sing on Friday:

Text: E.B. White Tune: Nebraska folk

I recalled I had first learned of this song from a book by E.B. White called The Trumpet of the Swan which is about a trumpeter swan named Louis from western Canada who plays the trumpet. Louis composed this song for his beloved Serena.Trumpet of Swan

I pulled the book off the shelf and stumbled upon a paragraph that expresses the turn of the season.

 E.B. White writes:

“But one day a change came over the woods and the pond. Warm air, soft and kind, blew through the trees. The ice, which had softened during the night, began to melt. Patches of open water appeared. All the creatures that lived in the pond and in the woods were glad to feel the warmth. They heard and felt the breath of spring, and they stirred with new life and hope. There was a good, new smell in the air, a smell of earth waking after its long sleep.The frog, buried in the mud at the bottom of the pond, knew that spring was here. The chickadee knew and was delighted (almost everything delights a chickadee). The vixen, dozing in her den, knew she would soon have kits. Every creature knew that a better, easier time was at hand—warmer days, pleasanter nights. Trees were putting out green buds; the buds were swelling. Birds began arriving from the south. A pair of ducks flew in….”

(continuing in the voice of the scribe)

…and built a nest at the base of a maple tree, on the south side facing the sun. The maple tree and many others grow on a strip of floodplain between Miller Brook and Nebraska Valley Road. Mr. and Mrs. McGovern, who live across the road with their family, discovered the nest on the day they pulled the sap buckets and taps from the maple trees. Sugar season was over.

The McGoverns and the mother duck-to-be, whose coloring matched the bark of the tree, startled each other and Mrs. Mallard flew off. Later that day, she returned to cover her ten buffy-green eggs with bits of down and leaves. The McGoverns have since seen Mrs. Mallard sitting in her nest.


We could smell in the steam during Thursday's boil that the buds were about to pop. This weekend's 60-degree warmth and sunshine proclaimed the turn of seasons.

We could smell in the steam during Thursday’s boil that the buds were about to pop. This weekend’s 60-degree warmth and sunshine punctuated the end of sugar season, probably for most of northern Vermont.




Still, Still Going


Perspective I

Perspective I

Quote of the Day: “This has got to be the first sugar season where the lawn needs mowing before the last boil.”

Mud season is over, people are bicycling, the pussy willows are out, and still we’re making nice-quality syrup.

Stairway to the cupola.

Stairway to heaven.


Speaking of climbing, this post is for Christian and Carly who are climbing in Yosemite this week and wanted to stay connected to events at the Knoll. The long boiling days of two, three, four, five, six, and seven weeks ago must seem like even more of a dream to them than they do to those of us who have been here the whole time.


Perspective II

Perspective II




Sap Run 101

 Or, Are The Trees Just Over It?

Chief of Operations writes:

I really shouldn’t be trying to instruct this course, as after forty years of trying to predict the strength of sap runs, I am still only vaguely successful.

April 12/16 This week the weather seems so perfect for sap runs. Why, then, is their vigor so diminished? This same weather earlier in the season would have meant being inundated with sap. Trying to nail down what makes trees run well or not is somewhat futile, but here is my best attempt at listing some of the main ingredients.

1) Oscillating temperatures above and below freezing.
2) Other environmental factors including wind direction and amount of sunshine. North and West winds are regarded as the best, and early morning sunshine, especially after a hard freeze, is good.

A few trees were tapped low this year; this technique is controversial.

A few trees were tapped low this year; this technique is controversial.

3) Hard rain usually tends to slow a run, and, surprisingly, snow with the temperature above freezing often tends to invigorate it.
4) Age of taps (i.e. how long ago tap holes were drilled in the trees). Fresh taps always run the best.
5) A long period of very cold temperatures will usually cause a delay in the time it takes for the run to get going when the freeze finally ends.
6) Multiple days of warm weather with no freezing nights will gradually lower sap volume and quality. Each extended warm spell will have an accumulative negative impact on future runs.

Ear to the ground.

Ear to the ground.

7) Temperatures into the upper sixties and higher will severely curtail a run and extended days of this warmth will end the season regardless of what happens after.
8) Solar cycle. As April progresses, the longer days and warmer temperatures promote bud development, which ends the possibility of collecting quality sap.


Early in the season with fresh taps, oscillating temperatures are really all that’s needed for a good run. As tap holes age and are exposed to warm weather, contamination builds and the trees start compartmentalizing the wound, which closes off the sap loss. Check valve taps have been developed to counteract this problem, though I believe their effectiveness is limited.

Late in the season all the problems associated with old taps come into play, which diminishes sap run vitality regardless of how ideal the immediate weather may be. Aging taps, like people, become susceptible to decline in vigor.


bit by buie

Iced witch hobble blossom, biding its time,

Still Going

Friday afternoon's boil. On days like this, when the snow hushes the valley and the steam hugs the sugarhouse, it feels more than ever that nothing else in the whole world exists except the boiling scene.

Friday afternoon’s boil. On boiling days – and especially nights – like this, when the snow hushes the valley and the steam hugs the sugarhouse, it feels like nothing else in the whole world exists except this place at this moment.

WEATHER: April in February, February in April. A good cold snap recharges the maples. It’s the weather we need to keep the season going.

This bud is swollen but has not yet popped. This week's cold has delayed the inexorable.

This bud is swollen but has not yet popped. This week’s cold has delayed the inexorable progression of new life.

HOW’S IT RUNNING? It was too cold for most of the week, but  the sap ran Thursday and Friday, though not as hard as it would have earlier in the season with similar weather.

BOILING STATUS: We boiled only once this week, on Friday, and it was a short boil.

SAP SWEETNESS: It’s 1.4%, the weakest sap of the year so far; it’s typical late season sap.

Falls Brook this week.

Falls Brook this week. It’s also on hold.



MUSIC TO BOIL BY: The Band Crush, Chapter Two.

I walked into the sugarhouse one day last week where Becca and Christian were drawing the last syrup of the day and heard dreamy but edgy tones emanating from the boom box.

“Is this Radiohead?” I knew Becca likes this band. The falsetto of the male vocalist matched the steam.

Christian likes Radiohead, too, and they listened to the album Kid A on his iPod. The persistent beat propelled them through an hour of cleanup chores.

Becca says: I’m not sure what to say about Radiohead except that they were the first band to make me excited about new music in a long, long time.   Kid A and In Rainbows are my favorite albums, and I particularly like the songs Everything in its Right Place, Idioteque, Morning Bell, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, and House of Cards.

They are five British guys who have been experimenting with rock music together since high school in the ’80’s. Adjectives applied to their music include: audacious, enigmatic, devastingly beautiful, weird.

Here is a sampler:

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

A version of Everything in its Right Place.

(I chose YouTube clips that do not show the band playing because Becca says she doesn’t even know what they look like, she just listens.)

Everett, who works on weekends and is itching to tap his own trees, also likes Radiohead. “They’re an acquired taste,” he says. “And they are their own genre. Another group called Dub Star All Stars did a dub version called Radiodread with a reggae spin that I really like.”

Dub version with a reggae spin?  I, your scribe, am in over my (un-radio) head.

What impresses me with both Animals as Leaders and Radiohead is that to be this good, these musicians have put in their 10,000 hours. That’s disciplined practice.


At Open House weekend last Saturday, this brother and sister returned for their annual dose of Sugar-on-Snow. We found the snow at a dammed-up lake where what little snow we had this winter blew off the lake and collected below the dam.

At Open House weekend last Saturday, this brother and sister returned for their annual treat of Sugar-on-Snow. We found the snow at a dammed-up lake where what little snow we had this winter blew off the lake and collected below the dam. [Photo by Dad Phil]