Archive for March, 2011

All Tapped

Friday, March 11th, 2011

This afternoon Alice joined me in the woods to finish tapping the maple trees. She carried the covers while I waddled around with the cordless drill and hatchet hooked on my belt, taps in my pocket, and buckets in my arms. We probably did 30-some more today, and we proved to be a very effective team. We’d better be if we resize the operation to 350 taps! Of course, that will be years from now, when we’re more crippled up than we are right now.

After we finished tapping, we noticed it was after 5:00 so Alice walked back home to get the kitchen stove fire going and start on supper. Franco and I stayed behind and gathered the sap from the trees we tapped yesterday. We got about 3 gallons, which was just enough to cover the bottom of the evaporator pan to about an inch thick. If tomorrow’s run is comparable to today’s, we should be able to get a couple of inches in the big pan, and enough in the preheating pan to start the evaporator. We also tapped two more trees I noticed we’d missed when we gathered. I could use one more bucket, because I found one more than that.

Mostly I stayed inside today, though, and reviewed for the test I have to take tomorrow. We’ve been working on this Firefighter II class for 6 weeks or so, and we’re all ready to have it be over with. The written portion of the test starts at 9:30 AM, and the practical should start as soon as we’re done with the written. We were told that there will be sloppy joes for lunch, but I’ll bring a sandwich in case they don’t count on vegetarian firefighters (a small subset of the population, I’ll bet.) I’ve already passed the HazMat part of the class, so all that is left is to take the tests tomorrow and hope for the best. It is ending at a good time, because I suspect I’m about to get busy with the maple syrup stuff.

Tap, Tap, Tap

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

I managed to get out in the woods today. It was cold last night and near 40 and sunny when I headed out there. I did a few things right too.

I brought along the Eastwing hatchet that I used to make the fir boughs early last winter. I normally use a hammer to drive in the taps, but this time I brought the hatchet instead. It worked great. As I was making my way from tree to tree, the pattern I’ll follow over and over as I gather the sap started to emerge. I used the hatchet to trim the branches of the fir trees to make the path easier to navigate. It took a lot longer to tap the 30 trees I did today, but I think I’ll reap dividends for the rest of the season.

I used up all the old style of buckets today, and tomorrow will start using the tapered aluminum ones. I hope to get the rest of the trees done in the morning, and actually do a gathering too. Many of the trees were running pretty well today, and if it warms up, there should be a run tomorrow too. It is cold tonight, which is just what the trees want. Walking around in the woods in these calm days, I like to stop and listen to the tap, tap, tap of the drops hitting the bottom of the metal buckets.

Speaking of the tapered aluminum buckets, I ordered 300 of them today, along with bucket covers and taps. I found a guy on eBay that was willing to talk price with me, and I think I got a pretty good deal. I have long range plans to expand the operation out there, and now I’ll have the buckets to do it with. Living in the country means there is always something to do.

I also got out into the woods today and skidded all but two logs over to the sawmill. I hope to get them loaded onto the sawmill rack soon and start sawing them up. I should have plenty of material now for the fenced in garden project.

Life is Soup

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

I should explain that I really like soup. One of the best things I’ve done in my life was to marry a soup artist. I have a pint of soup for lunch most days, and even when I think about trying not to, that first warm trickle down my throat each day elicits a moan of pleasure from me as it has been doing for decades. May it continue for decades to come.

Today my life had a lot of ingredients that are typical of soup, some good, some not so good, but the aggregate cooked down, bottled up, and heated and sipped made me say ahh.

To begin with, I got a call from my neighbor who felt good enough to walk today. He’s been through several bouts of cancer, and at age 71, he has had difficulty walking on the leg the cancer attacked the last time. He is determined and has improved to the point that we can go a couple of miles. Our discussions are far ranging and never at a loss for topics. I’ve learned things because of these walks I’m sure I’d never have otherwise.

I had a book to give him, and was wondering how I was going to carry it up to his house. I have a Kelty day pack I’ve owned for decades that has been a constant companion on many a long and short trip. A strap recently pulled off, and I reluctantly called Kelty and arranged to have them look at it for possible repairs. They’ve seen this pack on several occasions and have done a marvelous job of keeping it going for me. I was reluctant to send it to them because a) I hate not to have it, and b) one of these times I’m afraid they’ll tell me it is too far gone to repair. My old friend!

Alice was dustmopping as I was getting ready for the walk, and she went out onto the porch to shake out the mop. She came in with a box that she’d found on the porch. Inside was the pack and it was as good as new. Besides fixing all the burst and frayed edges, they replaced the shoulder harnesses with more modern solid ones to boot. I almost had tears in my eyes… my old friend was back and better than ever. I slipped the book into my pack, slid the pack on my back, and headed down the road.

roadcopper.jpgThe roads are starting to lose their snow and ice covering now, to the point that much of the road is showing gravel. And what should happen on today’s walk but the first piece of road copper of 2011 was found. And what a beauty it is. It will be added to my growing collection once we are done trying to determine what this one is. I think it looks like a pelican… what do you think?

bucket.jpgAfter the walk I came inside and announced that a headache had become part of the day’s ingredients. I took some ibuprofen, a bath, and a nap, which often works. I felt better when I woke up, so used that energy to walk out to the maple orchard and check my tap. I was greeted with the undeniable thunk of a drop hitting the bottom of a pail when I got out there, and when I lifted up the cover, the tap was wet and there was a small amount of liquid in the bottom of the bucket. The only way to know for sure whether this was sap or precipitation, was…

tasting.jpg…the taste test. My friends, it tasted sweet. Now, I wouldn’t say the sap was pouring out of the tap, but I am thinking seriously about tapping the rest of the trees in the next few days. Then the fun starts. It is often a month of daily effort; sometimes little effort and sometimes lots, but it doesn’t let up until the buds form on the trees. A good time of the year to be outside, and I am lucky enough to be out there.

One final ingredient to today’s soup is Maxalt, a product of Merck Pharmaceuticals. When the ibuprofen didn’t work, I stuck a Maxalt under my tongue and enjoyed the almost immediate results. Headaches of this magnitude sometimes take a while to completely shake out of my system, but I think I’m on the right road now. And after all, the headache is just another ingredient. I like soup, and I like life.

Made it Grunt

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

This afternoon I made up my mind to start the dozer and try again at getting the two trees down that have been hung up since I cut them, and to skid some of the logs back to the sawmill. I plugged in the dozer and started carrying firewood. I carried for about a half hour and filled the woodpile in the entryway. Then I sharpened and gassed up the chainsaw, and loaded it onto the dozer. I checked the oil, and it was about a quart low. I brought out the 5 gallon pail of oil (you buy your oil by the 5 gallon pail when your dozer is 60 years old) and dumped what was left in the bottom in. It wasn’t enough, so I opened the spare pail of oil and added about a quart of that.

I’m hoping as things were developing that I won’t echo the last time I tried to do this job, where I spent a whole day getting back to square 1. I’d plugged the dozer in and done other chores because it needs to warm up for about an hour before it wants to start on these cold days. I mounted the dozer and pushed the plunger. It spun but did not sputter. I gave it a small shot of ether and it sputtered, but did not start. I hit the starter one more time and it barely started. These old diesel engines do not like the cold weather. I can’t say that I blame them.

Franco and I headed out to the woods, me driving along at about a mile an hour, and Franco using his nose and running around in circles. When we made it out there, I backed the dozer around as before and payed out the winch cable. I wrapped the choker around the first leaning tree, got back in the cab, and engaged the winch. It grunted at first, then pulled the tree off its stump. I pulled it as far as I could, but the tree was still leaning. I had to get it down on the ground so I could trim the branches and buck it to length. I called this tree the porcupine because of all its branches. I moved the dozer away from the tree and engaged the winch again. The tree moved again, but still did not come down. Those porcupine branches were really holding on! I moved one more time and down it came with a satisfying thump. Then I moved to the second tree and it came down easily.

Next I backed up to the big tree I’d cut down and bucked up earlier this winter. I’d made a 16′ log out of the bottom section, and then two 10 footers. I choked them on the cable and hauled away. They came out of the woods without hanging up on another tree or a stump. Things were looking up. My winch brake quit working sometime in the last millennium, so to skid the logs, I wrap a chain around the chokers, and the other end on the tow bar of the dozer. When I drove away, they lined up behind me just like soldiers.

logs.jpgThat 16′ log was big and heavy. The poor old dozer really had to grunt to move along with the heavy load sliding behind it. The least incline caused me to have to stop the machine and let the engine rev up, and then drive another few feet until I crested the hill. Once we made it to the road, the going was easier. I pulled in next to the sawmill rack, unhooked, and parked the dozer for a well deserved rest. Next I’ll go back out there and finish bucking and trimming, and haul the rest of the logs back. Then we’ll start the sawmill and make another bunch of 2x4s.

Somehow They Know

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

mapletree1.jpgA couple of days ago, the temperature was in the mid 40s, and the night before was well below freezing. The combination that starts the maple trees flowing and keeps them flowing is just that… below freezing nights and warm days. Franco and I walked out to the sugar orchard during that balmy afternoon to see if the trees were going to wake up early this year. We brought along most of what we needed to do the work, and tapped our first tree of the year.

As we walked out there, I could just feel the snap of spring in my nostrils. I had myself pretty convinced I’d have a gusher on my hands when I drilled the first hole of the season. Sometimes it works that way, and sometimes it doesn’t. I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t be time yet, because I’m still busy taking classes for the fire department. As usual, I have several other irons in the fire besides that as well. As I chucked up the drill, I really didn’t know what would happen.

tap.jpgAfter I drilled the hole, I brushed away the sawdust and looked intently into the hole. It often starts slowly, and then really picks up steam if it is going to flow. I looked for a minute or so, and all I came up with was a dry tap. Now the plan is to visit each likely day until some activity is detected, and then tap the rest of the trees. This is a great time of the year. Those few hardy souls are sensing the beginnings of the growing season, and seem poised to get a jump on their competition. And we benefit with some sweet syrup.