Sap diary

April 4, 2023

Written March 10, 2023, 6 p.m.

At the end of February I caught Covid. I came out to Madoc to recuperate with the dogs. I started to feel a bit better, in the cold air, snow and sunshine. So I charged up my cordless drill, put it in a backpack, put on my cross-country skis, and took the dogs with me to the sugar shack. Over a few days I hung forty buckets on maple trees. Some of this work took place in a blizzard.

After ten days of night sweats, soup, Kleenex and paperback books, I finally tested negative. So I went back to Toronto. Back in town I watched the weather report for Madoc. The temperature went above freezing for a few days, but it was not weather for much sap to run. So when Mimi and I drove out to Madoc today, my expectations were low.

But the situation I found here was not what I expected.

In fact what we have now is a classic high-octane drama of maple syrup season, with more variables than my little brain can handle. And maybe this is one of the things that excites the blood in syrup season: the collision of many forces, some of which one cannot control: weather, visitors, dogs, snow, moods, alcohol.

Our puppy Rook and I skied over to the neighbours and picked up their two-year old yellow lab, Norman. Norman and Rook are like brothers: they love to jump on one another, push eachother into a snowbank. Each lunge ends with one dog lying on his back in the snow. The other jumps on top and chews on the face. This goes on for a long time.

In the woods, to my surprise, we found many buckets overflowing with sap. The sap is frozen solid. At the sugar

Here are the variables.

Frits, our son, plans to come up for the weekend from Kingston, where he attends school at Queen’s University. He is driving up with his room-mate, Katie, in her low-slung Honda Civic with tinted windows, big speakers and B.C. plates. Another friend of Frits’, Seamsus, has announced that he will ride his God-forsaken bicycle from Kingston. Nobody thinks this is a good idea. But who can talk to kids?

God bless Mimi, who has come for the weekend laden with food, including individual pizza for this evening, with toppings that include sausage and mushroom she has pre-cooked. Each person will make their own pizza. Tomorrow night we’ll have chicken shawarma; Mimi has prepared so much of it that we’ve invited the neighbours, the Cooks, to come and join us.

Next variable: in the sugar shack is a brand-new evaporator. For my 60th birthday last summer, Mimi bought me an evaporator. A blacksmith in eastern Ontario made it. I drove there in September to pick it up. It’s good for up to 100 spiles, I think. The thing sat in pieces in my sugar shack for months, because, having built a sugar shack, I had never really considered the job of punching a hole in the roof to allow an evaporator chimney to carry smoke from the fire raging in the box to escape into the sky.

When push comes to shove, as one does in a situation like this, I leaned on my neighbours. The neighbours have a son. The son could come over with his saw, they said, and cut a hole in the roof. But when the day arrived, I learned that the son had been out late with friends, and was taking it easy in the morning. At some point we got him to climb on his four-wheeler. On the back, the son had strapped a ladder that belonged to another neighbour; one for whom we did not feel too much fondness, but hey: he didn’t need to know exactly where his ladder was going, right? And so the young man climbed the ladder, without much comment, and cut a hole in the sugar shack roof.

But let’s just say we don’t know how the evaporator will function.

Outside the sugar shack I built a platform about two metres off the ground, with a flight of wooden stairs that go up to the platform. On the platform I placed a 200-litre plastic barrel. From the barrel, a ¾-inch plastic pipe runs through a hole in the wall, into the evaporator.

So here’s the next variable. Since the sap is solid, there is no point in putting it in the barrel. It will not flow into the evaporator.

Next variable: I need to line the firebox of the evaporator with fire bricks. I do not have these fire bricks.

So the job for tomorrow morning has several facets. First, go to the Timbr Mart and pick up the firebrick, and load it on a toboggan and haul it through deep snow to the sugar shack and try to put it in the evaporator.

But first we have to open the Next, my son and his friends pick up the sap. For this job they will use toboggans and 20-litre white plastic pails. It’s a bit of a trick to get frozen sap to fall out of the bucket that is on the tree, and into the pail. We’ve done this quite a bit over the years and as a result the pails are somewhat dented.

So now you have a lot of frozen sap. So what to do? Light a fire in the evaporator, I guess, and then put the frozen sap in the pan. The chunks of sap will sort of lean against the sides of the sections of the pan, and eventually melt, and we’ll have an evaporator full of sap, at some point.