News from Vermont # 236 -- The Last Day
Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks
Hello again Maple People,
Sugarin' 2011 is over and a great year it was! Nature cooperated by giving us nice cool "sap weather" and son Tommy gave nature a good sized nudge with his savvy of things vacuum and tubing (sugarin's a little sweeter these days with a gentle blend of young blood and technology). Our main storage tank out back of the sugarhouse was full all season long and we even had to bring in three other tanks for reinforcements! It was a season to behold...hectic and extremely tiring but satisfying...well, all except the last day. In spite of the "ooohs and awhs" we hear from sugarhouse passer-bys on that day, I'll be honest: to a Vermont sugarmaker, the last syrup boiled is the dregs. Yup, 'bout the time old "Jack Frost" forsakes the North Country and maple buds start to swell, the personality of sap changes. Instead of appearing crystal-clear, it takes on a milky sheen and boils down to buddy, bitter, putrid syrup (never fear that this stuff might end up from our store to your pantry...it always gets sold to a "bulk" market and no-doubt ends up in that nationally branded so-called pancake syrup). A wise sugarmaker would dump the stuff down the brook but being Yankees, most of us will hold our noses and hang in there for the last day of boilin'.
One time up on the ancestral farm in Maple Corner, my father coupled his distaste for that day with the calendar date, April first. He had already smelled "bud" in the boiling sap and wanted no more of the stuff; all of a sudden a creative April fool's joke came to mind: Dad whittled a wooden plug which he used to plug the pipe that carried sap from the distant dumping station into the sugarhouse storage tank. He knew the gatherers were due with a load of sap and, sure enough, soon heard the "clucking and cursing" of man driving horses. He looked out to see the gruff Chester Haggett manipulating the sap sledge into place at the dumping station. Normally the sap flowed quickly down the run of pipe. That day, however, the combination of blockage and "head" caused a spectacular fountain. Sure enough, Chet's reaction was instantaneous and booming: "What the &**@# hell's goin' on!". From the old sugarhouse, Dad witnessed several rag-tag sap gatherers pirouetting away from the deluge. He said they kept diving back in futile attempts to fix the problem and were all thoroughly soaked when he finally ambled up to let them know they had been duped! "Just my way o' tellin' you I'm all done boilin' that putrid stuff", Dad said to an already conniving Chester Haggett.
Chet knew It was Dad's turn to do the barn chores the next day and he turned a creative mind toward chore time's final task...wheeling cow manure across a plank "cat-walk" to dump on winter's mountainous accumulation. After he dried off, he went to the barn to begin "staging" his caper. Taking a handsaw out to the "cat-walk" Chet carefully sawed two thirds through the plank that traversed the highest point above the pile. He then turned the plank over so that it looked as strong as ever and stood back, swiping his palms together in satisfaction.
The next morning my father finished up the milking and released the cows into an outdoor exercise corral so that he could clean the gutters. He loaded a wheelbarrow with the first load of very "loose" cow manure and headed out toward the pile. The plank broke when he was just half way across and Dad landed with a huge KERPLOP, "ass over tea kettle" six feet below in deep, brown slime. Chet and his crew materialized from all corners of the barn beaming with satisfaction as they peered down. "Guess I asked for that one", Harry Morse sputtered. Although he was "frosted" from head to toe, they knew there was a grin on his face, this time a pinched crap eatin' grin!
The words "it's all in fun" come to mind. Yes, we Vermont sugarmakers do have fun during our season and why not...it's pure and invigorating and sweet and fleeting; yup but when it's over, it's over and it usually ends "long 'bout April Fool's Day".
Good day...Happy Spring!
and the Morse Farmily.