A cold spring rain falling gently, the past week a rollercoaster of temperature swings from frost to hot. One morning, a trace of winter etched on tree limbs, a dusting of spring sugar-snow. Chives sprouting in the garden. Coltsfoot, daffodils and forsythia in yellow bloom. The sap buckets collected, washed and stacked, the sugar house cleaned up, the sugar season over.
There is romance in the craft of harvesting maple syrup from the woods, but also lots of hard work. Other than fishing, sugaring is the last wildcrafted crop done commercially. An early spring crop for small-scale farmers and backyard adventurers. Big business for full-time sugar makers. But whatever the size of the operation, or new technology employed, still dependent on the grace of nature, the whims of springtime temperature fluctuations.
I am not the sugar-maker in this family, and do not bear the brunt of the hard work of sugaring, the seasonal activity that gets me away from the office, off-line and in-woods. It is my sweet, dear sugar-maker-in-residence who takes on the many roles required to keep our small operation running. He is alternately the weatherman who predicts sap flows, the woodsman who cuts, chops and stacks the wood and stokes the wood boiler, the engineer who tangles with temperatures and aging equipment, the repairman who fiddles with tubing, buckets, tanks and evaporator, the farmer who drives the tractor and hauls the heavy buckets. And I am lucky to be by his side for the ride. Outdoors in the woods to collect sap when the days are beginning to lengthen. And when night descends, inside the sugar house, steam rising from the pans, a wood fire crackling, golden nectar captured in a glass jar. Pure magic.