Ode to spring in Canada (Vive le printemps)

March 25, 2019

Screen shot 2019-03-25 at 8.31.17 AMWill spring ever come?

I am not sure that spring is late this year, actually. It’s probably right on time. Perhaps with global warming we’ve become conditioned to the arrival of spring earlier than it should. Anyway, we’ve had a crisp month of March.

Probably I am just impatient because I am slightly obsessed with my primitive yet enthusiastic effort to boil some maple syrup at our little sugar bush near Madoc, Ont., about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa.

Is it too much to ask to just have a week or so of cold nights and warm days, so that, when I arrive at my sugar bush the buckets are brimming with sap? Apparently, yes.

In February, which admittedly is a bit early, I tapped my trees; I put in a princely 46 spiles, with our faithful dog, Coco, trailing along. She noses around, extracts from a snowdrift an impractically large stick and hauls it behind. She doesn’t care whether the sap has run or will run. She is just happy to be in the woods. I should take a page out of her book, but I don’t. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, I want more. I want sap.

Since then I’ve been out three times to boil. Here are the results.

First boil, with a big build-up; we invited two sets of couples to join us for the magic of syrup-making. The couples had fun and brought soup. One couple’s dog did not get along with our dog. Result: one litre of syrup.

Screen shot 2019-03-25 at 8.32.57 AMSecond boil: My sister came by with her two little kids. Her son, who is six, had a whale of a time going from tree to tree, emptying pitifully small dribbles of sap from each bucket. She also brought soup.

“I don’t know where the buckets are!” her son called called, as his back disappeared down the trail, covered in thick, crystalline snow.

“You have to look for them!” I called back. “It’s like an Easter egg hunt!”

Result: three litres of syrup

Third boil: Our friends came up from Toronto for the night and showed enthusiasm for drinking beer/wine by the outdoor fire on which I’d put the sap pan. They brought the third fabulous soup of spring, an Italian wedding soup. Result: four litres of maple syrup.

The syrup is delicious, if I dare say so myself. And I need to remember that life is about the journey, not the destination.

In the event, I had to laugh at myself yesterday morning. A friend came up in the fall, and helped me affix an eves trough to the sugar shack that I am attempting to erect in the woods. An eves trough might seem an unnecessary luxury on a sugar shack. My idea is to build a little tower on the corner of the shack. On the tower I will set a rain barrel, into which I’ll feed a downspout to catch the rain water. I haven’t put in the barrel yet, so the water just drips out of the eves trough right now into a plastic bucket.

But there’s a bigger and more fundamental problem with my brilliant scheme to bring “running water” to my sugar shack: the weather. In spring it’s often below zero. So instead of water, you end up with a lot of ice.

The ice under my downspout had grown into a kind of stalactite. I needed hot water to wash my sap pan and wash my hands, etc., while boiling, and so I attacked the stalactite with my axe. I broke off big chunks of ice, and threw them in the evaporator pan, to melt into water. Coco stood and watched.

Vive le Canada!


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