Wrap Up


“Sugar season 2017 is officially over,” declared Chief of Operations on Sunday.

the sugarhouse gleams again;

What he means is that we released the trees and thanked them;









the gloves got their moment in the sun before being stuffed into a pillow case to protect them from the sugarhouse mice until next February;



(couldn’t resist)







the RO “diapers” lined up for their spring airing;









Joe split wood

and Chief of Operations compiled the annual chart of stats to mount on the back wall of the sugarhouse.

while Ross stacked (we finished May 11th, a personal best);











A Look Back: As always happens, we learned that our season was similar to that of sugarers on the other side of Mt. Mansfield and in the rest of our county, Lamoille County. Some made syrup in January (not, and probably never, us). Everyone made a lot of syrup in February, relatively little in March, and we all ended the season with a whopper of a run ca. April 8-11. Was it a good year? Yes, we nod, but not as good as last year. What about grade? Well, for us it was the Year of Light Amber Rich; I can’t speak for others.

Did we break any of our records? Yes, in two categories.

2017 beat out 2016 by one day in the category “Longest Season” which we measure as the first through the last day of boiling. The dates? February 20 – April 11 for a total of 51 days.

2017 also beat out 2016 by five days in the category “Earliest Start.” This year, February 20; last year, February 25.

For me it takes some of the fizz out of the experience to compare Nebraska Knoll’s season with that of other sugarmakers. When someone asks “How was your season?”, all the uncertainty, the waiting, the worry, the adrenaline rushes, the pots of coffee, the giggling fits, the syrup spills, the filter press woes, the bass beat emanating from the boom box, the stoking gloves wrapped in duct tape, the sagging faces of the stokers, the filthy ash-cleaning wool hat hanging on its peg, the aroma of ham and scalloped potatoes, the play within this play called Waiting for Lorenzo, the steam, the clank of the stovebox door being jerked open, and the sticky rooster-shaped timer set at 8 minutes between stokes – all as ephemeral as the spring beauties – reside within my response “It was good.”

It was very good.

Now, dear readers, the long-like-this-season phase of the blog ends, but the blog door stays ajar. Thanks for clicking or tapping this way, and as I have said other years, “For goodness sake turn off those marvelous digital devices and get outside.”

Blog Staff:
Photography: Chief of Operations
Food correspondent: Maple Trout Lilli
Artist in residence: Ana Lucia Fernandez
Contributing photographers: Tom and Laurie Silva and the crew
Contributing writers: Sarah Bailey, Joe Renish, Chief of Operations
Supporting Cast: The Crew
Senior Editor: AC








Monday Buds

To celebrate the conclusion of the 2017 Sugaring Project at Nebraska Knoll, the blog will feature the equivalent of a Fireworks Finale.

First let’s start with the trees without which there would be no sugaring project.

Here is the most recent painting of sugar maple buds by Ana Lucia.

Flowers emerge from the tips. Watercolor by Ana Lucia Fernandez.

A retrospective:

Watercolor by Ana Lucia Fernandez


Sugar maple buds.
Drawing by Ana Lucia Fernandez


Thank you, Ana Lucia.



Ephemerals Fest

Yellow violets. They come in white too.


Dutchman’s Breeches  (This blog editor’s favorite)


Red trillium classic. Photo credit: Tom Silva


A red trillium struggling to unfurl.


Coltsfoot is an alien plant, the first wildflower to bloom in spring – but not in the sugarbush. This photo was taken near the sap shed. Coltsfoot grows in waste places and on roadsides. The flower blooms before the leaves come out. It’s the big green leaves that give the plant its name.


Spring Peeper on Porch. “Otter the cat is bugging me.” Photo credit: Tom Silva


How many white pails does it take to make a gallon of maple syrup?  Study this photo for 15 seconds, leave to get a glass of water in the kitchen, then close your eyes and name 10 items from the photo.



The Ephemerals: Spring Beauties

This year the blog will revive its photo celebration of the northern hardwoods ephemerals, the flowers that bloom on the forest floor after the last sap run and before the canopy fills in and shuts out the sunlight.

Here is the front of a card created and printed by neighbor Heather Hale on one of her historic presses. Since it is a letterpressed card, if you were to run your fingers over it you’d feel how the tiny type has indented the textured paper. For each creation, Heather chooses paper texture, weight, size, and color; font and font size; ink; which press to use – and much more I am too ignorant to mention. Her layout here perfectly evokes the ephemerals.



Flip over the card and see this at the bottom:


And here are the Spring Beauties:



[Except where credited, all blog photos are by Chief of Operations.]



Saturday afternoon at the opera

April 22. It is a Saturday afternoon in late April, eleven days out from the final boiling day, and all seems familiar. Wild leeks near the Keystone line are poking up 3-4″. Spring beauty buds are tight today but won’t be for long. Witch hobble blossoms and leaves are greening up at the edges. Falls Brook swells with rain; spring freshets chase down to it and will for a little while longer. Mrs. Raven still sits in her nest; Mr. Raven fusses. The sugarbush feels poised for the burst of abundant life.

Familiar too is noting the progress of the woods crew in knocking out taps and rinsing lines. They carry five-gallons of water on their backs to squirt into the tubing at each tap, refilling their backpack tanks at the freshets or at springs. It has been good working weather for the most part: cool, with no remaining rotten snow to wallow in.

As I hiked up to find leeks I recalled that today is Earth Day. At a lecture this winter I learned of the findings of forestry research, how trees network with each other via fungal systems, how they cooperate. Ecologists are modifying the old model of trees competing for resources; it seems they share! I feel so encouraged by news of the example forests have set for us all along.  http://e360.yale.edu/features/exploring_how_and_why_trees_talk_to_each_other.


During the long boil of April 10th, Joe, Ana Lucia, and I brainstormed ideas for an opera to be called The Work with the Sap.

We thought we’d set the scene through a depiction of some of the lowly tasks of the sugarhouse crew. Ana Lucia ( A.L. Fernandez) volunteered to write the libretto. She retreated to a secluded beach in Mexico and just sent this early draft:

El labor de la mañana (The labor of the dawn) (To be sung by the ensemble)
Nos despertamos temprano y nos preparamos para el día que nos trae la savia.
Quita la miel de ayer, ponlo en cubetas, raspa la orillas, echa agua, y aspira.
Ahora nada más falta empezar el fuego y limpiar el de desastre que hicimos.
We wake up early and prepare for the day the Sap brings us.
Remove the syrup from yesterday, put it in buckets, scrape the sides, add water, and vacuum.
Now all we need to do is start the fire and clean the disaster we made.
Migración de los barriles  (The migration of the drums from the sugarhouse to another building)  (Quartet for bass, baritone, tenor, and contralto)
El trabajo que más nos encanta.
Los barriles pesados nos ven de la esquina con una mirada de burla.
Son una muestra de nuestro trabajo largo de los días anteriores.
Te sientes fuerte hoy?
The job we love most.
The heavy drums look at us from the corner with a taunting look.
They are a show of our long work of the days before.
Do you feel strong today?

Drumroll, please. Photo credit: Laurie Silva

Primero, Segundo, Tercero, Cuarto (bass and soprano duet)

Es tiempo de llenar los 40 gallones de miel recién hecha.
Primero, baja los barriles sin que te aplasten.
Segundo, mete agua caliente sin que te quemes.
Tercero, dale vueltas sin que te canses.
Cuarto, saca el agua sin que te salpiques.
Ahora sí estás listo para llenarlo!
It’s time to fill the 40 gallons of fresh syrup.
First, bring down the drums without them smashing you.
Second, fill them with hot water without burning yourself.
Third, roll them around without tiring yourself out.
Fourth, take out the water without splashing yourself.
Now you’re ready to fill it!

The source of tension, altercations, and murderous intentions in The Work with the Sap is the hydrometer, innocently reposing here in the elegant hydrometer cup.

Everyone will get to sing about encounters with it. Here is our powerful tenor, Ross.

The soprano’s turn to check and adjust the density. Over? Under? Quick, the syrup’s backing up in the finish trough!

More exasperating is quickly and efficiently checking the density of syrup built up in the storage tank prior to drumming or bottling. Joe, our bass, deliberates before comparing the reading he gets (Brix scale) with the density chart.

The aria for this trio goes on for twenty minutes explaining how it takes three people twenty minutes to agree on a hydrometer reading, while a mad woman cries (coloratura here) through the steam.  Photo credit: Laurie Silva

70 degrees in the shade

In case you readers have not read the blog comments recently, I will print the poem offered there by Elyse Moore in response to the previous post.

Sweet Music to Boil By

Sweet music to boil by
floats minds on clouds of steam,
through harmonies of aching muscles and hearts–
Hums liquid tones through soaring rhythms,
glowing crackling boiling toiling–
whose refrain flows into a single bucket
again and again.


[Elyse lived next door for decades. She writes from experience of this place and of the sugarhouse since she was our master boiler for a few years. Her son Aleks, who grew up climbing all over the sugarhouse roof with a gaggle of Valley boys,  joined the crew in 2017.]


WEATHER: The last freezing night was Saturday night. By Monday it was 70 in the shade; Tuesday was an even warmer day. Since the heat spike ended the temps have been in the 40’s and 50’s.

HOW’S IT RUNNING? It ran hard on Sunday and progressively worse until the run fizzled on Tuesday. The sap turned scuzzy in the heat. (Sap looks like water but it spoils like milk.) Two days and nights of 70 degree weather can kill a season and it killed Nebraska Knoll’s. Certain counties northeast of here could probably still see some good sap if they get a freezing night.

SAP SWEETNESS: Overnight Monday to Tuesday it plummeted from 1.9% to 1.2%. That’s some weak.

Three things crash at the end: Sap sweetness, sap quality – from clear to cloudy to mule piss (in the vernacular), and sap quantity. We crossed the line on Tuesday afternoon: all the markers screamed that the season had crashed.

Ugh, not this tedious job again (changing the filter press papers).

BOILING STATUS: It felt exciting to boil on Sunday and Monday, but on Tuesday we suffered from the heat and struggled with the filter press. End-of-the-year dark syrup just doesn’t filter well. Also, the scuzzy sap mucks up the RO machine. Enough!

Knowing when to call the season isn’t always as clear as in 2017. Some years, your blog editor will hear the fat lady sing a few days earlier Chief of Operations does.

Yes, sugar season is not over until the Fat Lady sings. This year she sang an aria in Spanish, loosely translated in English as “The sap coffee is all gone but still I wait for you, Lorenzo”.


[NOTE FROM THE BLOG EDITOR: She works as a church musician and will shelve this blog until after Holy Week and Easter weekend. Stay tuned for a preview of the opera The Work with the Sap.]

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Raven sing in scolding tones whenever I approach to within 200 yards.




Music to Boil By

12:30am. When I walked out of the sugarhouse after 16 hours of work, the greater world  expanded in stillness below a full moon, but just until I noticed how clouds chased across the moon, how urgently Miller Brook bellowed from the bottom of the valley, and how cool air emanated from the snowbank.

             steam burns from working in a T-shirt
all doors flung wide open
thirsting for a beer

This week of boiling feels like a world cup event. The team has certainly put in the training hours since February 20th. Today we hummed.


Enya (too sleepy)
Fleet Boxes (who?)
Cabinet (Joe’s favorite group, energizing on a hot day or any day)

Joe is a natural in the sugarhouse because he wears a baseball cap.

Elfin Love Tribe (good ashes-cleaning vibe)
Maple (We played this collection at least five times today. Thank you, Stevie.)
Mgmt (not sure I have this right)
Railroad Earth (named after a Jack Kerouac short story)

Arlo Guthrie (ah, yes)
Grateful Dead (chosen by the youngest crew member)
Pink Floyd (ditto)
Chad Hollister (VT rock ‘n roll artist with a 10-piece band including brass)
The Chvrches (not the best cleanup music but it sufficed)