News from Vermont #233 -- Chip Chat
Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks
Hello again Maple People,
Well here it is almost sugaring season and We're "scraping the bottom of the barrel" for wood to heat our houses... used to be quite universal that Vermont farmers would feel this "draught" on the home front while sitting on a woodshed chalk full of dry wood for the sugarhouse. These days sugarmakers have "stretched the limits" fuel-wise; though they may still burn wood at home, many maple folks are burning oil for boiling sap. While the temptation is sweeter'n ever to go this route, those old family ghosts hanging out in our ancient sugarhouse would never allow us to burn oil. We've gone to a rather unorthodox fuel for sugarmaking, woodchips.
A while back I made my annual call to Joe Gagnon at his lumber yard down in Pittsford for a load of chips..."Yaw...probly could...be Sat'dy maybe seven-seven thirty in th'mornin 'less, o'course th'roads're too bad." he said, which interprets in native Vermont talk: "You best be ready at six 'cause I'll be early and there ain't no such thing as roads too bad t'travel!". I got up at five that Saturday morning and had my coffee early in anticipation of Joe's arrival. As I sat in our living room, though, the weather outside did look a little "iffy". Snow was comin' down sideways and the view we normally have of the valley to the south wasn't there at all. "Hmmm" I thought. "Maybe even Joe will call it off on a day like this."
It was about 6:30 when I finished my coffee, put on my winter garb, and headed down the driveway toward our sugarhouse. Driving snow pelted my bare face and my hands felt the raw wind right through my thick gloves. When I got to where I could look down County Road toward our distant cow barn there, parked on the road way in the distance, was the looming ghost of an eighteen-wheel Freightliner; I chuckled to myself thinking "God I'm smart. There's Joe down there a half hour early puttin' on his chains!"
Joe was born on the same Pittsford, Vermont dairy farm that had been in his family since 1880. He grew up like every other farm boy doing the thousand-and-one things necessary on a Vermont dairy farm but he was always happiest in the woods cutting trees and workin' them up into firewood or sawlogs. His son Ken recently told me that his dad had a secret hankerin' to work fulltime in the woods and finally saw his chance when dairy regulations changed in the 1960s to require the installation of expensive bulk milk tanks. "He sold the cows and built a sawmill" Ken said leaving out the conventional ending to that thought, "that he never looked back". Joe Gagnon "looks back" all the time to his farming roots, to when he learned "biblical-scale" things like buying the best equipment, maintaining it, and using it. One thing in particular that's universal among farm boys is the ability to "back up" farm implements and trailers and Joe's no exception; Joe Gagnon could back a camel t hrough the eye of a needle! Today Gagnon Lumber Company is a sizeable operation and Joe, quite logically, gravitated toward it's huge tractor trailers years ago.
The day of the delivery I went down the road toward the big truck and Joe was just chaining up the last of eight huge drive wheels on his road tractor. "God I thought maybe even you'd call it off today", I shouted over the howling wind. "Oh no" he shouted back. "Weren't that bad...just had to slow down a few times...couldn't get by the snow plow, y'know". He had traveled the sixty miles to Montpelier from Pittsford (one of those routes you can "hardly get theyah from heah" in any weather) and droned up the steep hill from Montpelier. As he approached our wood chip barn, however his common sense kicked into high gear. He knew it's a "trucker's nightmare" to back into that place and careful planning, including chains, is just good insurance. Satisfied that all was ready, he climbed up into the cab, continued the short distance to our barn, and backed the behemoth in; a one-shot deal!
As I stood watching the self-unloading trailer disgorge 30 tons of freshly ground wood chips, you might think I was contemplating our coming sugaring season and all the syrup we'll make from that fuel but I wasn't...I was reveling in watching the machinery work and secretly wishing I had been the one to back that big rig into the barn! Yup, you see, I'm a native Vermont "farm boy" just like Joe and I, too, would have driven up in that storm. My friend Gerald Pease oft used the expression "load light n' go often" which means "don't ever carry more than you can handle even if it means makin' a couple extra trips to the barn." The day I talked to Joe's son, he chuckled about his dad coming up in that storm. "Heck" he said "a couple Mondays ago we got 24 inches of wet snow, Dad made two trips to Middlebury and one to Bennington...had th' road all to himself!" I had no trouble believing that of my friend Joe Gagnon, a true "load light n' go often" sort of guy.
We've been sugarin' hot and heavy although right now it's kind of on hold because the weather is too cold (remember how I've told you that sugarmakers rely on "neurotic" weather?). Last week, though, we were in the sugarhouse till midnight or after several different nights. We now have new 2011 syrup in all four grades. Just go to www.morsefarm.com but don't get "hooked" on that website because we're getting a new one...I've seen the new home page and it's beautiful! Our new site will be much easier to navigate. It will have a complete archive of News from Vermont, a video portion, and all other features that the latest web technology has to offer...we're excited!
and the Morse Farm family