Sunday, April 14, 2013

Cabin Life: The Tardy Spring

Ice on a cherry logSo far, spring has been a big let down.  There were two robins in the yard this morning, hopefully representing a soon-to-be change in the weather.  Between the upper field and lower field, I’d say about two-thirds of the area is still covered in snow.  In the woods, I can post-hole my legs up to the calf when not wearing snowshoes.  Luckily, the freeze and thaw effect has left a fairly heavy crust on top of the snow, making it a little easier to walk around.

The little path that Pico and I have made to the sugar maples is a safe walk, and I have no problem doing it in sneakers.  I might break through three or four times, but the falls through the crust into the four or five inches of snow don’t seem to matter now.  The end is in sight.

I pulled one of the taps the other day.  Initially I had tapped three trees, and so far the production has not been bad.  I now have about five gallons of sap sitting in a bucket, waiting to be boiled and condensed into maple syrup.  It’s not much, but it’s not too bad for a trial run either.  I figure I might be able to get half a pint or even a little more syrup out of this big white bucket full of sap.

The largest tree I tapped didn’t produce much to begin with and after another week of only giving me a few ounces of sap, I decided to pull the tap and jug and just let that tree get on to the business of being a tree.  The other two trees I tapped are starting to dwindle in their production, and I am planning on pulling them out this week as well.  I’m going out of town for a couple days and decided to leave the taps and jugs in place until I get back.  I’m not worried about overflow or anything like that, and with the reduced sap flow the last couple of days, I don’t think that will be a problem anyway.

The very first drop of sap that came out of the tap was both exciting and disappointing.  It was exciting because it meant spring and sweetness and another project to take on.  It was disappointing due to the fact that it seemed so insignificant.  Literally just a drop in the bucket.  I tasted the first drop as it rolled off the blue plastic spile and onto my tongue.  It was nothing more than sugar water, with an ever-so-slight taste of maple to it.  It’s amazing to think that at some point in history, someone looked at the clear liquid coming out of a maple stump and decided to taste it.  That such a huge tradition and addition to our culinary culture could come from some dirty tree water is wonderful.

But now, two weeks later, when I sealed up the lid on the almost full five gallon pail, it’s amazing that in such a short time so much potential has been unleashed.  There’s no doubt in my mind that if I had taken the time to tap the fifteen or so trees in the area that I could have had a considerable amount of syrup when all was said and done.  I actually regret not doing more this year, but as with all things, it is what it is supposed to be.

I can drive into the cabin without four wheel drive now, and have had the time to scout out some downed trees to drag out for next winter’s fire wood.  I have to fix the two metal roof panels that blew off the porch of the Upper Camp before any more damage occurs to the porch.  I have to watch out for hungry bears and raccoons.  There’s plenty to do out here, and making maple syrup is only one of many chores to be accomplished.

It is nice to think about the syrup as a chore.  I like being able to enjoy my chores, and sitting by a fire all day making syrup is definitely a chore I can take pleasure in.  I have no desire to climb up on a roof to fix the metal sheets.  I will take no pleasure in wondering if the sounds I hear while sitting in the outhouse are those of a bear wandering by.  But I will enjoy the spring, even though it is being rude with its tardiness.


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Justin A Levine

Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.

2 Responses

  1. Howard Jackson says:

    Couple of quick tips from another backyard syrup producer. The color and flavor of your syrup is affected by how long and at what temperature your sap is stored before boiling. From what I understand, the bacteria that come straight from the tree work to break the sucrose into fructose and glucose which contribute to something called Maillard browning when you boil it down.
    When you’re boiling, it takes a long time before the temperature rises above the boiling point of water. Once it does start though be careful. It rises quickly and a burnt pot of syrup is a real heartbreaker.

  2. joan streetman says:

    I always enjoy reading about your cabin life

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