It is sugar season in Vermont and across New England. And there is hope today that the sap will rise again and that we will emerge from a spring freeze into another period of thaw. A heady taste of spring last weekend came to an abrupt halt this week with a day of heavy rain, followed by windy and cold weather, sap buckets sitting empty, mud frozen in deep ruts, the sugar house idle. But despite the temporary freeze of spring activity, there are sure signs of spring to be found. Woodlands loud with bird-song and fragrant with moss and leaf mulch, evaporating snow. Swollen rivers and streams, muddy with white-caps and ice-melt, floes of ice rushing down-stream. Daylight lingering ever so slightly with the passing of each day.
The pause in sap-flow and sugaring activity allowed for a day-trip across the river to New Hampshire to stock up on supplies. Along muddy back-roads, many other sugaring operations – large and small, rustic and industrial. Blue tubing strung between trees, emptying into tanks that hold thousands of gallons of sap. Operations using reverse osmosis and vacuum pumps to maximize efficiency. Others using metal buckets, emptied by hand. Traditional wooden buckets and taps on display. Sap collected and boiled into syrup using wood and gas, monitored by basic temperature gauges or electronic equipment. Our operation small and hands-on, low-tech, and extremely gratifying. That first taste of golden sweetness, beyond compare. Hard work that will never be justified by the bottom line. Time in the woods, outside, gathering sap from buckets. Boiling sap in the sugar house as dark begins to descend. Picnic dinners by the glow of the wood fire, surrounded by evaporator steam, the sweet calm punctuated by the stoking of the fire and the rush of drawing off and bottling the piping hot syrup. Family visiting, sharing the work and the reward. Sure signs that winter is over, even if spring is still a ways off.