Family, Farming, Parenting



This past weekend featured the first truly springlike days of the year, and as much as I’m fond of portraying myself as a rugged contrarian stoic who pays little heed to the capricious vagaries of a Vermont winter, the truth is I get as excited about spring as anyone.

On Saturday morning, whilst waiting for sap to accumulate in the buckets we’d hung, and with the boys out scouting the woods for some innocent fur-bearing species or another,¬†Penny and I split wood together (this is what passes for a date around these parts) and damned if I weren’t more than a few rounds into it before I was down to a tee shirt and feeling the first salted beads of sweat forming on my brow. Ah. We split for a bit more than an hour, then spent some time futzing with our cobbled together sugaring apparatus, and then, unable to resist, strolled down to the most prolific of our taps to assess the situation. Of course, there wasn’t nearly enough to be worth gathering, but there was plenty to be worth tipping a bucket or three to our mouths for a sample.

The way we sugar is frankly absurd. Our 60 or so taps (“just enough to be annoying,” is how one north country farmer described it to me) are spread across a broad sweep of fence line maples that extends for more than a quarter-mile down along our southern boundary. We transport sap in five-gallon buckets, either pulling them in a sled, or simply lugging them over the rotten snow, post-holing with each step, our shoulders slowly being extracted from their sockets until finally we capitulate and stop for a rest. It’s borderline ridiculous, or maybe not even borderline, given that our friends Jimmy and Sara make some damn fine syrup just up the road, which they sell at a fantastically reasonable price.

I have to admit that late on Saturday afternoon, after my second trip from the far reaches of our sugaring territory, with my arms screaming hellfire and my chin sticky from sap and sweat, and the dawning recognition that we’d so far collected enough for a single gallon of syrup at best, and still there was the straining and boiling and bottling and crikey, how many hours would we have into that single gallon, anyway? Three? Four? Yeah, I have to admit that at that precise moment, I was about ready to throw in the friggin’ towel on the whole damnable operation.

And at that precise moment, as I was standing in our yard, hoping my biceps would someday stop hating me, Rye emerged from the woods. He’d found a handful of errant sugar maples deep in our woodlot, and in his uniquely industrious way, had quietly tapped them. Both boys had assembled little fireplace rigs, and were excited to do some sugarin’ of their own.

So here I am in the yard with forty or so gallons of hard-earned sap arrayed around me in five-gallon buckets, and I’m about ready to collapse into a puddle of sorry-ass self-pity, and Rye’s carrying two sloshing buckets, which he’s hauled over hill and freakin’ dale. Speaking strictly in terms of weight and strength proportion, never mind terrain and distance (his haul exceeded mine in both regards), my eight-year-old had just out worked me by a country mile.

And the little bugger’s grinning to beat the band, holding onto his precious sap for dear life. “Look, Papa, look,” he said. “Do you think I have enough to boil?”

Suddenly, my arms didn’t hurt so much.









10 thoughts on “Ridiculous”

    1. Well, it’s still pretty early in the week, Hank. You might get a better moment or two before it’s over.

      Still, thanks.

  1. Our kids are all grown now. When they were home we used to “scatter” about 48 buckets every season, and set up an arch in an old wood shed, vented into an old piece of double wall pipe. One year all three kids were tapping trees with me. Later my wife asked how long it took me to do 48 taps. Without missing I beat I said, “Two hours–longer if I have help!” All kidding aside, sugarin’ and mud season are a special time of year. The kids still think so too, and always ask if I can send them syrup.

  2. Good God Almighty, I love your kids. That’s a fantastic little set up they’ve got there, and I fully applaud their efforts at becoming their own men in the world. My husband and I are constantly saying we wish our boys had friends like Fin and Rye, I’ve no doubt they would be better for it. We also say we’re gonna send them to the “Ben Camp
    ” for the summer, so don’t be surpised if a couple red heads show up on your doorstep looking for sugarin’ and basket weavin’ lessons. Fantastic. ~Vonnie

    1. Given the way my boys are behaving today, I sure am glad you love them. ‘Cause I’ll feel a whole lot better about sending ’em down to your place for the next month or two.

      1. HA!!! They all have their days, to be sure. Mine like to whine and fight too much, but in the whole, we love ’em anyways as I’m sure you do yours. Took too much work for me to get them into the world to ever let them go for too long anyways. ~Vonnie

  3. very sweet~ we recently (well, late january to mid february, it happens way earlier down here) completed our first sugaring season down in western nc! tapped four large trees (all belonging to neighbors) and ended up with just shy of 3 gallons. our set up was most certainly a cobbled together do it yourself kind of rig…. but it worked and now we’re hooked! (so glad to have found your blog through taproot)
    cheers from nc~

  4. Just found your blog and am loving the stories and musings. I had just a taste of farm living, but I have a little Laura Ingles Wilder in my soul.

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