Maple sugaring time is, to this very day, a cherished memory for me. Each stage comes back as special, and each one is as vivid as the day it happened nearly eighty years ago.
My father and my favourite Uncle Fred shared a ‘sugar bush’ together, and each spring, when the sap started to flow, they would emerge from their long winter doldrums to start ‘spiling’ the trees. This involved going from tree to tree (nearly 200 of them) with a hand auger and a pail of spiles to ‘tap’ the trees – sometimes three to a tree.
My job was to hammer the spiles into place when father bored the holes. Nonetheless, it was a father-son collaboration that is hardly known today. In my mind, we were ‘men’ working together, and whether or not it was cold and damp, I persevered as men did in those days.
The next stage was the gathering of the sap. this was done in two wooden barrels affixed to a ‘stone boat’ (a skid with two log runners) that was pulled by “Dolly and “Molly” – our two Clydesdale horses.
It was then poured into four ‘evaporating pans’ that were placed atop a brick fireplace. As the raw sap ‘boiled off’ in the first plan it was transferred to the next until the last pan held the pure elixir – golden and sweet, and as pretty to look at as it was to taste.
But here is where the real memories take shape. Most of the boiling off took place at night, and so, on weekends, my sister Beverley and myself were allowed to join father and Uncle Fred until the day’s batch was finished – around 10:30 or 11:00 PM.
Included in these memories are the crackling of the fire echoing throughout the forest, and the mouth-watering aroma of maple syrup as it nears perfection – not to mention the taste of ‘maple snow’ in a cup – which we just happened to bring along.
Then, with a cream can full of syrup (about two or three gallons), we would start for home under the light of a full or crescent moon. Nonetheless, the stillness of the forest seemed to accompany us with only the jingling of harness and the plop-plopping of the horses’ hooves to break the frosty silence of a March night.
Therefore, there is not an early spring goes by that I don’t think of these tumes and the people – long gone – that accompany them.