Cement Shoes

We Yoopers are tough. No brag, just fact. I can imagine someone trying to torture some information out of a Yooper.

Black Hat: “First I’ll put you in a hot room, then I’ll plunge you in cold water, and I’ll do it repeatedly until you talk.”

Yooper: “We call it a sauna by the lake. Just make sure the rocks are hot and the lake is really cold. Oh, and could we hit each others naked bodies with a cedar switch until we turn beet red?”

Black Hat: “Ok, then I’ll thwack you across the face with a stick.”

Yooper: “We call that walking single file through the woods and having the guy in front of you let go of a fir branch just as you’re into your stride.”

Black hat: “OK, then I’ll loosen your teeth.”

Yooper: “See fir branch above.”

Black Hat: “I’ll make you sit inside a dark tent on the ice a mile from shore.”

Yooper: “Oh great, you’re taking me ice fishing.”

Black Hat: “I’ll subject you to a mile of cement shoes.”

Yooper: “Noooooooooooooo!”

The snowshoe is an amazing invention, right up there with the canoe and the bicycle. It allows you to easily travel in places during the winter that would be essentially impossible otherwise. The design has been honed over many generations up to the current high tech ones. Talking to people about snowshoes is like talking about multitools. Everyone has a favorite and no one is willing to concede that theirs is inferior.

My showshoes are WWII army surplus aluminum alloy with aircraft cable lacings. They are light, tough, and the best snowshoes in the world. They work well under most snow conditions, allowing one to float effortlessly and silently across the billowing snowfields. There is one condition under which they tax even the most experienced snowshoer… the dreaded cement shoe!

cementshoesWhen the weather warms up enough that the top foot or two of snow turns to slush, the snow does not filter through the lacings on the snowshoes, but instead piles on top. This plugs the top of the snowshoe, meaning that every other bit of snow that falls onto it piles up too. After a few steps, each snowshoe gets heavy indeed. If the cement shoe weather is just slightly slushy, you can kick your feet forward one at a time, and flick the pesky slush off. On days like today, however, just about everything you do makes matters worse. The only thing for it is to pick up each foot in turn, deposit it as many inches forward as possible, rest, then do the same with the other foot… over and over.

Today was my first gather of maple sap. The trees were running gayly in yesterday’s sunshine and 50 degree temps. Today it was still in the 40s, but overcast, and the trees seemed depressed. As I was walking out to the maple orchard on the snowshoes, I felt compelled to cheer them up by slapping them on the bark and saying, “Come on old buddy, this weather can’t last forever. Are we going to let a little dreary weather get us down?”

But by the time I’d slogged out there, I was ready to buy my maple syrup at Walmart. And that was before I started gathering.

Since it is early in the season, I have no well-established trails between the trees. I fell through repeatedly, covering my snowshoes with slush. I gamely tried to flick it off the first few hundred times, but eventually just slogged. All 63 trees gave me a total of 4 gallons of sap for all my efforts.

Even Franco, my 5-year-old German Shepherd, who has inconceivable energy when it comes to being outside with me, just looked across the 50 feet of slush separating us, and whimpered.

After I’d gathered the last drop of sap, poured it into the evaporator, and closed up the building, we started our slog back to the road on the fairly well established trail we’ve been using all week. “We’ve got it licked now, don’t we buddy?” I said to Franco. That’s when I noticed it had started to rain.

One Response to “Cement Shoes”

  1. […] disagreed with me. It took me 3 days to get the tapping done this year, because of the extreme cement shoe snow […]

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