Chief of Operations writes:
Duking It Out
Summer and winter, the opposing seasons, cycle through their rhythm of dominance and remission. Spring and fall are when they engage in a battle for supremacy. Like an anticlimactic novel, the winner is boringly predictable, and like a James Bond movie, the oppressed arise for another go, when the planetary alignment is right.
The spring tug of war, when the cold and heat are duking it out, is the heart of sugar season. Sugarmakers root for an even match. If one side gets the upper hand for very long the spectacle withers. Eventually, without exception, warmth becomes indomitable and the show ends.
Christmas week 2014: Summer gets in its last licks with some serious blows to its rising opponent.
Late January, February 2015: Winter shows its muscle and unrelenting grip.
March 11: Summer tries a first punch but it’s ridiculously soft.
March 27: A little wiser and conscious of its opponent’s strength, summer throws a few exploratory hits.
April 7: Gaining confidence and boosted by the solar cycle, summer comes out swinging and the struggle explodes.
April 12: This seemingly unstoppable winter has been pummeled too hard, and begins to show its age and face the inevitable.
April 18: Begrudgingly, winter licks its wounds and cowers into hiding, biding time as it waits for the sequel.
Since Nepal is in the news due to the devastating earthquake, I want you local readers to know that the greatest find of the year is a Nepali take-out food counter tucked away inside a gas station (Riverbend Market) on Bridge St. in Morrisville, just across from the Bijou. I think the sign on the outside of the yellow building says Himalayan Nepali Cuisine.
For the non-local readers, you may like to know that Morrisville is the town ten miles north of Stowe. It’s where we buy plumbing fittings and maple tubing. It’s where we took the blower motor for repairs in March (Farrell’s Electric) and where we got a piece of stainless steel cut for the filter press (Leo’s Welding).
A hot meal in the sugarhouse on boiling days sustains and buoys the crew. By the end of the ten-day boiling marathon the freezer was depleted of chili, mac and cheese, and baked beans, so, being in Morrisville on an errand, I stopped by the yellow gas station for Nepali take-out. The crew relished it (“These are whole cardamom pods,” said Becca. “He’s not skimping.”). I forgot to bring home the spicy sauce, but it didn’t matter, since the crew was taught by Chief of Operations to douse every plate of food with hot syrup.
I wonder, How is the chef handling the news from Nepal? As he bustled to fill my order for chicken and vegetable curries, he told me a few bits of his story, but not the bit about why he is living in Morrisville. I learned that he was educated in British-built schools in northern India, that he still owns a farm near Kathmandu, and that he is unhappy with the current, inept government.
When sugaring work wears me down, I sometimes draw my attention to the earth beneath me, holding me up, supporting me. This weekend I am aware of taking for granted the constancy of the physical terrain, as I take for granted so much else – hands and wrists that work, abundant water, access to food.
A Late April Morning Weather Report
Snow this morning.
Will it linger?
A spring of change,
The full range, not
So strange for here.
But the sun steers on
course: cheers of praise
for the day’s light,
for days of light.
May’s within sight.
The temp never broke 33 degrees here today. Word has it our friends in East Burke are still boiling. Good news! Their season will benefit from the cold and snow; it’s much too late for ours.
Woods cleanup progresses slowly, hampered by rain and today’s cold. The guys burn thousands of calories a day. Here is a favorite way Ross refuels:
Ross’s Monster Energy Bar
2 C Oats
1 C Nuts, use your favorite or a combination
1 C Dried Fruit
1/4 C Maple Syrup
1/4 C Honey
1/4 C Barley Malt Syrup
1 C Peanut Butter or other nut butter
2 T Vegetable oil
1/2 t Sea salt
Toast the oats and nuts in a baking pan for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
Combine all wet ingredients in a sauce pan on medium to low heat on the stove and stir until well blended about 10 minutes.
Then combine the wet ingredients and the oven toasted ingredients along with the dried fruit in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
Transfer your ingredients into shallow 9 X 11 pan and compress everything evenly into the bottom of the pan.
Put the pan into your refrigerator for about 2 hours.
Cut into squares and enjoy.
Bucky, an old friend, called from Glover to discuss a pump. His maple season is over, too, so he’s tapping his white birch trees! It’s birch syrup season. It’s beyond me how anyone can manage two syrup seasons back to back, but Bucky is quite excited about it. I have not researched birch syrup production, but here is what he said:
The birches run after the maples.
Once tapped, a tree will run non-stop for two weeks.
No freezing nights are necessary, in fact, they are a handicap.
No vacuum pump is necessary; the trees gush.
The sap doesn’t spoil since it is so weak (.75% sugar content).
It takes 100-150 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of birch syrup.
He uses the RO and syrup pans as usual.
There is one deterring factor, in my book: I don’t like the taste of birch syrup. Apparently, many chefs snatch it up for their kitchens.
Weather: Cold and rainy this week, after last week’s blip of summer that prompted the brown, pointy sugar maple buds to swell and pop, ending the maple season.
-Throw down a case each of gallons, quarts, and pints.
-Time for a stoke.
-Raise that float up to thirteen.
-Switch the plugs over in the back pan.
-Why don’t you take a couple hours off and come back at 9 pm, then work til the end?
-nKay. See you then.
“When I was at the bank on Tuesday, Andy Baringer asked me, ‘Is the season OK?’
I said, ‘Right now it’s on the low end of OK,’ and she looked a little worried and said, ‘That’s what the Rooneys would say too.’…….What we need this season is an OK Scale of one to ten.”
“One would be Not OK, and ten would be Very OK,” suggested Chief of Operations.
“Then where are we on the OK Scale?”
Everyday in my inbox I receive a Daily Writing Tip. One day recently, the topic was the word ‘okay’. I learned that the proper way to spell ‘okay’ is ‘OK’. Spelling it ‘okay’ is not OK. Since I think of myself as a good speller, I felt chagrined. Decades of committing a spelling error? But has it been decades? Until email, I spoke ‘OK’, I didn’t write ‘OK’. I’m okay with learning new ways of doing things and will henceforth attempt to conform to the highest standard of the English language.
-How was the season? a friend asked today.
-It was OK [A seven? An eight?]
Neighbor and guest blogger Laurie Best Silva writes:
Typical conversation at the Silva home before heading up to the Sugarhouse:
Why don’t you just “hop in?” (the car)
Because.. I don’t want to “hop in.”
Because I want to walk up.
(Because I need to walk up. Because it gives me a moment to transition from a day of work elsewhere into the world of tall pines, generous old maples, fresh mountain air, and anticipation.)
It’s all part of sugaring season.
Falls Brook Lane is a little world unto itself and in my opinion, taking the trip by foot is the best way to experience it – the sounds, the smells, the night sky, the peace.
The brook is in its glory in the late spring. It rushes and tumbles and laps at its partially frozen banks. It provides the background music to the sugar ascent.
The dirt road itself is either ice or mud depending on how the day has gone. If it’s ice, the challenge is to hang on and try not to slip backwards. If it’s mud, slipping is not a problem, but sinking is – and the trick is to walk over some nice snow or wet grass right at the end of your little climb to clean the bottom of your boots.
Our family lives on the “valley floor” as some of us have affectionately named our part of Nebraska Valley Road. We are down through the woods and more out in the open, but on a day when the sap is running, we can sometimes hear the vacuum pump as it does its happy work up the hill.
Other days however, it’s a mystery. We have no idea whether they have decided to boil right away, or wait a bit. And if they are boiling (sometimes we can smell the wood fire or catch the “smoke signals”), how long will they be boiling? Are they maybe finishing up? It is all part of the sugaring game. Of course, we could call and find out the status, or they could call down for help, but sometimes, we just like the surprise.
So we head up with a few possible intentions:
to see if there is any action in the sugarhouse,
to just say hello and check in and let them know we are around,
to get to work.
And the general rule we have for ourselves is to arrive ready to go.
So when I walk the road and round the corner
if it is nighttime, and if I am lucky,
the windows will be glowing, and the sparks will be flying,
and the steam will be rising,
because the fire is stoked and the sap is boiling and the syrup is bubbling.
And we assess the situation: any crisis? anything broken? anything spilled?
How’s everyone doing? just fine? tired? hungry?
And we get into the flow
And we find our places
and we enter into the happy little world of friends and work and maple goodness.
And the sparks fly and the steam rises and maybe there is a little jig or a song
and when it’s time to go
you say your goodbyes and start your
“midnight walk” back down the slippery road.
And you yourself are little sticky and a little full of sugar
and you yourself are happy
and you hear the singing brook
and you feel the cold night air
and you can’t help but count your
many blessings once again.
NEWS FLASH: The 2015 crop is in.