News from Vermont #257 - Panning GoldNews from Vermont #257 - Panning Gold

February 24th, 2012

I've always been attracted to the idea of "gold in them thar hills" but have never been able to actually go out and look for any (except of course, the "liquid" kind that we get from maple trees). I grew up hearing rumors of gold in Minister Brook over in Worcester, lots of it. The message, alas, always got punctuated with a wink and the words "All you gotta do is find it.". Lately I've been watching a TV show called "Gold Rush" and learning lots about the "finding" part; I've also learned a thing or two about my tender psyche...stay tuned.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it provides an entertaining view of three different gold mining crews in Alaska. If the portrayal is realistic at all, the overhead of gold mining is measured in huge equipment breakdowns and disappointment where the rewards are measured in mere ounces, but never enough ounces. Those gold miners are some of the most "hard luck" guys I've ever seen!
Before telling you how the "Gold Rush" show affects my tender psyche, I must make a confession: my writing usually portrays the "romantic" side of maple sugaring...you know, where sap "drip, drip, drips from the maple tree and boils into the sweetest golden syrup, and so on and so forth". Sorry to have "put you on" but in reality, we Morse sugarmakers can have more problems than you could shake a leaky bucket at. In fact, when things go wrong, I can throw tantrums or wrenches or evaporator pans with the best, uhh...worst of 'em.
The last time I watched "Gold Rush", things were going terribly wrong. The narrator went on..."And back at Porcupine Creek, the Schnozel crew is in deep trouble. Their 40-ton bulldozer just 'blew an engine', the 400 Excavator is down in a 20 foot hole with a thrown track, and with only 30 ounces of gold for the entire season, they're literally in a hole.". All of a sudden, there in front of the TV, I felt an approaching panic attack..."Oh my God" my mind raced..."How are they ever going to get that track back on...DAMN...that blown engine's going to cost ten thousand dollars...THEY'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO MEET PAYROLL!!". At that point, I slapped myself and turned the darned TV off, muttering "stupid, stupid!". That was the last time I watched "Gold Rush".
One time a similar scenerio happened right here at Morse Farm. I was with our sap crew up in the north sugarbush gathering. We were in the middle of a huge sap run and all our buckets were running over. I knew about a mud hole ahead but was in a hurry to get our full load of sap back to the sugarhouse; I throttled the D-17 to wide open, shifted up a gear and "went for it". About half way through, we sank axle deep in sucking mud! "No problem" I said, grabbing the chainsaw that we always carried, and heading toward a medium-size beech tree. I cut the tree down, carried a four foot length from it back to the stuck rig, and chained it to one of the tractor's huge drive wheels..."Old Indian trick"...I announced to the crew with a wink. Then I started the tractor and put it in "creep" gear; the added thrust of the chained log against terra firma would have normally inched the tractor out of its hole except for one major flaw: I had chained it right where the tire's valve stem stuck out. With a sudden "whoosh" the tire became flat as a pancake and the rig sat still stuck. The next hour of "thrashing around" brought our second tractor, you guessed it, chained to the D-17 and now just as stuck plus our ancient bulldozer chained to the two tractor mix but crippled by a thrown off track!
I forgot how we finally got out of that mess in the north sugarbush but certainly remember that things didn't "pan" out that day. We're about to start a new season of finding "maple gold" and, no, I have no pretentions about the "finding" part being easy or even profitable. Like those folks up in Alaska, though, we've got it in our blood. These days we're out in the sugarwoods every day fixing, tapping, dreaming..."there's gold in them thar hills".
Par for the "winter 2012 course", sugaring is announcing itself early this year. Our lack of snow is not necessarily a curse. As I've said many times, sugaring is 99% sugar season weather...nights in the mid-twenties, days in the mid-forties. If we get the weather, we'll get the sugarin'! Right now, we're sitting on a thousand gallons of sap and a cold weekend forecast. That amount of sap is not enough for us to start boiling so it'll freeze into ice. The forecast for next week, however, looks good so we expect the sap ice will melt, more sap will run, and we'll soon be boiling. Our weekend sugar-on-snow paries start next weekend, March 2,3,and 4 from noon till 4:00 so if you're in the area (or even Boston or New York), come on up! 
Happy Spring!