Archive for March, 2016

Hit the Reset

Friday, March 18th, 2016

“It sure has been a strange spring.” I’ve said it myself, and heard others say it. We say the same thing every spring while we’re in the middle of it, and perhaps we say it to make ourselves feel better. Meanwhile, the maple trees just do what they always do.

It got pretty warm early in March. Warm enough that I had some average days and some very good days about a week ago. For those two good days, I got around 40 gallons a day, and had to gather twice each day to keep up. We boiled and boiled in the shack. Then the weather stayed above freezing for a couple of nights, and I think the trees were thinking about budding. I had 5 buckets of yellow sap that left a bitter after taste. I dumped that sap out.

maple3Then a couple of nights ago, it got cold, and stayed below freezing during the day. We had a big wet snowstorm. Many trees bowed down, and several broke. I think they’d lost their winter stiffness, and were vulnerable. The maple trees decided as a group to give it a rest. I’ve checked the buckets each day, and if I see anything, it is a small sad puddle of frozen sap in bottom of the bucket. My hope is this will reset the clock for the trees, and they’ll put off budding for several weeks now, while providing sweet sap during the days.

maple2During maple season, these little rests should not be squandered. Once the season gets back into full swing, there won’t be enough time to even sneeze. I had 2 gallon jars of near-syrup in the back of the refrigerator, so I spent several hours messing up the kitchen getting them boiled down to syrup and put into bottles.

maple1Is there any sweeter sound than that a canning jar makes when the lid seals? The house is quiet and we’re all thinking about other things when from the kitchen, you’ll hear a “PING!” I’ve never had a jar fail to seal, but I still mentally count them off as I hear them go off. It is a fine sight on the kitchen counter as the day’s canned jars line up and catch the light.

The long range weather report shows more cold weather tomorrow, and possible above freezing the next day. If I don’t write for a while, you’ll know it’s because I got busy again.

Snow Fog in the Sugar Bush

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

I’ve been out in the sugar bush for the past 4 days or so. A couple of days ago it had rained, but there was still a lot of snow on the ground. As the day progressed, a creepy layer of fog lay just over the hills and valleys of the bush, inspiring the title of this piece. I really didn’t have a story to go with this title, but I felt the title was too good to waste, so here you go.

I’ve gathered 3 times in the afternoons so far, and have managed to boil everything before heading home for supper. This gives me time in the mornings for other projects, which I’m taking advantage of, because once the run starts for real, there will be no more spare time. Today’s sap gather was around 12 gallons, which takes me an hour or two to get boiled down enough that I can let the 5 gallon reservoir dribble into the pan after I stoke the fire, close off the air, and leave the evaporator to its own devices when I call it a day.

So far no syrup has emerged from the pan, but I’m getting close to the point where I should start checking with the hydrometer. Once the syrup starts to come, the magic happens. The bottling in quart and pint jars starts, the shelf in the basement begins to bulge with the sweet syrup, and the end of the season starts to look attractive. For now it is all so new that strapping on the snowshoes for another gather gives me a thrill.

Addiction Should Be Avoided

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream that wasn’t a nightmare, but it triggered a daymare for me.

I’m currently reading “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. It is a disturbing book, and I’m sure last night’s dream was not the first I’ve had since starting that book, and it probably won’t be the last. I’m about 2/3 through it, and the theme is addiction, the consequences thereof, and the difficulty involved in clawing one’s way out of addiction.

One unique theme of this book is a fictional addiction from which there is no escape. A bootleg video cartridge becomes available to certain people, and once it is watched, the viewer cannot stop watching it. If the video equipment is shut off, the viewer will do any and all to see to it the video is restarted. The damage is permanent. Once viewed, the victim will spend the rest of their life trying to catch another glimpse. They will lose all ability to care for themselves, and left to their own devices will wither and die.

After I stirred from a dream about the characters in the book, I languished in that half awake state that I especially enjoy in the winter. The bed is warm, the covers just heavy enough, the flannel sheets snuggling every square inch of aware flesh of my body. Then the terror started to seep in.

Several people I’ve spoken with have told me they’ve attempted but not finished this 1,000 page book. In fact, I only heard from one person that made it all the way through. Then it hit me… the book was written by a clever psychologist, and is in fact a trap! Like many addictive substances, early exposure to it is not pleasant, but as the exposure continues, the experience escalates from tolerance to pleasure to compulsion. I was on the cusp of this compulsion! I’ll soon be unable to do anything except read and reread this book. I felt I had to warn the world, and I especially needed to speak to my friend that had read the book, and find out he was ok.

It seems a little silly as I write this now, but at the same time, I can feel the echo of fear that is still fresh enough to be viable. One takeaway from this book is that addiction is a terrible thing, and that our brains, some brains more than others, seem to be hardwired to accept addiction, and embrace it so completely that recovery is a lifelong struggle that many fail to achieve.

We’re Helpless

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

This morning I was scheduled to bring our car in to the dealer in Hancock to get the passenger air bag replaced. It was minus 8 degrees when I left the house. Since the garage was relatively warm compared to the outside temperature, I didn’t think too much about the weather.

I got the car to the dealer just as they were opening up, so was first in line to get the work done. Since it was supposed to only take an hour, I decided to walk to a restaurant about 5 blocks away and have breakfast while I was waiting.

I do believe in having good gear. My jacket is a Canada Goose parka. The story goes that this parka is issued to the folks that work in the Antarctic. I had my hiking boots on, a chook hat, and insulated mittens. As I headed out into the minus 8 day, I noticed that the further I walked, the colder I got. Normally I warm up once my body’s furnace gets going, but this morning was different. Perhaps it was the exposed facial skin, but as I proceeded down the sidewalk, I began to feel a little uneasy.

At that time of the morning, Hancock Michigan is not hospitable to the general public. Nearly everything was closed. My face was cold. I was starting to think mushily. What if the restaurant is closed? What then? Will the post office be open? Will they let me stand in the lobby and warm up? What becomes of the people that have no place to go in weather like this?

The restaurant was open, I had a lovely breakfast on top of several cups of steaming hot coffee. By the time I’d paid the bill and stepped back outside, the world had changed. Either it had warmed up significantly, or the food in my belly gave me the additional fuel my furnace needed, or a combination of the two. In any case, the walk back to the car dealer was trivial. What a difference an hour can make.

As I drove home I thought about we humans and how soft we’ve become. All the forest creatures know what to do to survive in the elements, while we, with all our fancy gear, would be uncomfortable indeed if we were separated from our snug homes and cars. I do still think good gear is important.