Casaubon's Book

The Change

“Did you look at the forecast?” “Is this it?” “Should we get them out?”

My children keep asking, and I keep telling them that I think so, but that no one can know for sure. We are talking of the change in the weather, slated to begin today, warming us up from the last wave of bitter cold with night temperatures last night around -12 (we hit -29 earlier this winter, so that’s pretty balmy), to days in the 40s (gasp, and maybe even near 50) next week, while nights are just below freezing.

It is possible, of course, that the warm spell will turn and go south, although the predictions are optimistic. It is possible that after the melt-off next week we’ll go back to the deep freeze, but an extended warm period like this usually means the beginning of the end for winter. This might just be the beginning of spring. After a long and bitterly cold winter, we’re all excited. (And probably a little optimistic, given that it is -5 right now and we’re expecting snow within the next 24 hours…but it is supposed to be 35 tomorrow, so that’s enough to encourage optimism!)

“Them” are the maple taps. It isn’t for nothing that the Northeast is said to have five seasons – spring, summer, fall, winter and mud. We really do have a transitional season during the annual melt-off when everything is running – the creek, the melting snow over the driveway, the streams of mud down my children, and the sap of our tiny sugarbush.

My woods are fairly new, and the hardwoods are just beginning to take significant place in them – 50 years ago, my 18 acres of forest was pasture. You can find the old standard apple trees and the stone fences that kept in the cows easily enough as you walk through the brush and woods. There are only a few maple trees big enough to tap, mostly in the old hedgerows – but that’s ok. We have dozens of neighbors with larger projects going, and are happy to purchase some syrup from them. For us, this is a pleasure, a few quarts of syrup for pancakes, and the knowing that spring will come.

Sap runs when days are warming and nights are cold, when the ground defrosts and the puddles pool, and as the snow melts. For many of my neighbors, maple syruping is part of a living, but for almost everyone who does it, it is a way to move into spring, awaiting the red-winged blackbird and the peepers, out in the woods, outside, luxuriating in the warmth of a 40 degree day and the smell of reducing syrup.

On March 1, The Carrot Barn, the large farm in the Schoharie Valley we visit regularly will reopen from its winter rest. Within a few weeks, their greenhouses will be full of spring flowers and fragrant with the smell of earth and hyacinths, and we will go there to take deep gulps of springtime air through the cold days. The house will gradually fill with seedlings as well, the smell of wet earth and the hope of spring. Perhaps next week, if a day reaches a bright and non-windy 50, I’ll carry them outside to sit on the porch, protected from bright sun and cold wind at first, bringing babies out to meet the world.

The Robins came back at the end of January, the junior does started breeding last night for summer babies (actually they started a couple of weeks ago by accident, but I’m trying to pretend I’m in control here – the animals, however, are also feeling spring in their blood!), and the seniors will start to kid in early April. My tub will be filled with baby chicks in a few days, peeping and awaiting weather warm enough to move into the barn. All in all, the turn of the year is coming whether old man winter likes it or not.

For now we hang, quietly, or not so quietly, impatient, waiting for spring. It is coming, It is almost here. Every sign debated, every change tasted – there is no moment in time when we are more in tune with our place and world than in the pause between winter and spring, when we stand, waiting for the moment when all this pent up energy is finally released!

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Markk
    February 11, 2011

    It is so funny how a cold, muddy nasty time of year for most becomes so looked forward to when one belongs to the Maple sugaring crowd! Starting out drilling holes with the cleaning solution freezing in the bottle and ending with green popping out. It is amazing.

    Two weeks or so till drilling for us in Wisconsin.

  2. #2 Stephen B.
    February 11, 2011

    Here in eastern MA, we tap around Valentine’s Day, so that’s next week. Interest in farming things comes and goes at the school these days as I’ve said in previous postings, but perhaps some kids will go out with me next week.

    Up north, on the new homestead I purchased, it too is mainly land that was pasture half a century ago. Most of the land that hasn’t been rented to a neighboring potato farmer is coming up to eastern white cedar and white ash now, but thankfully I have a decently mature sugar maple on the front lawn. There’s probably a few more hiding in the newish woods given that there’s 25 odd acres back there, but even one nice tree would be enough for now, if I ever relocate up there.

    The great thing about being a maple person is how fast it makes the next 5 or 6 weeks go……probably too fast at times. Spring work loads will be here before we know it!

  3. #3 ChrisBear
    February 11, 2011

    I noticed the season tipping towards Spring last week- like a deep bass note in my core. The sun is up when I leave work, more birds every day (I think some robins are using building heat vents to survive an early migration), even with 2-4 feet of snow and crazy -bajillion cold this week. It will be the Equinox all too soon!

    Renting in the Minneapolis metro, I have no place to tap. Hopefully I can brew some beer and trade with a friend. Or there are those birch trees in the office park… ;)

  4. #4 Sharon Astyk
    February 11, 2011

    Stephen, Mazel tov on your new place – I’m so excited for you! And yes, you are right – there’s this waiting…busy…waiting…busy..waiting…OMIGOSH I’m never going to sleep again thing going on.

    Sharon

  5. #5 Andy Brown
    February 11, 2011

    In Maine I’ve heard the four seasons described as Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Mud.

    Though much of that is just propaganda to scare the southerners away.

  6. #6 Shannon in Maine
    February 11, 2011

    You forgot black fly season. If the winter doesn’t scare ‘em, those critters will. ;)

  7. #7 Jennie
    February 11, 2011

    Spring is humming it’s warm up tune here in Iowa too.
    Birds were heard yesterday as I went to work. :-)

  8. #8 Steve in Hungary
    February 11, 2011

    I enjoyed that post Sharon.

    Alas we are not quite there yet. The goats are still confined – not enough greenery out there yet.

  9. #9 Stephen B.
    February 12, 2011

    Since there seem to be some Mainers here (my new place is in northern Maine), allow me to post this, as found on http://www.city-data.com/forum/maine/376036-oil-prices-forcing-people-leave-maine-13.html:

    AUG 12: Moved to our new home in Maine. It is so beautiful here. The mountains are so majestic. Can hardly wait to see snow covering them.

    OCT 14: Maine is the most beautiful place on earth. The leaves are turned all the colors and shades of red and orange. Went for a ride through the beautiful mountains and saw some deer. They are so graceful. Certainly they are the most wonderful animals on earth. This must be paradise. I love it here.

    NOV 11: Deer season will start soon. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill such a gorgeous creature. Hope it will snow soon.

    DEC 2: It snowed last night. Woke up to find everything blanketed with white. It looks like a postcard. We went outside and cleared the snow off the steps and shoveled the driveway. We had a snowball fight (I won), and when the snow-plow came by, we had to shovel the driveway again. What a beautiful place. I love Maine.

    DEC 12: More snow last night. I love it. The snow-plow did his trick again to the driveway. I love it here.

    DEC 19: More snow last night! Couldn’t get out of the driveway to get to work. I am exhausted from shoveling. Darn snow-plow!

    DEC 22: More of that white stuff fell last night. I’ve got blisters on my hands from shoveling. I think that the snow-plow hides around the curve and waits until I’m done shoveling the driveway. JERK.

    DEC 25: Merry Christmas! More friggin snow. If I ever get my hands on the s o b who drives the snow-plow I swear I’ll kill the idiot. Don’t know why they don’t use more salt on the roads to melt the stupid ice!

    DEC 27: More white stuff fell last night. Been inside for three days except for shoveling out the driveway after the snow-plow goes through every time. Can’t go anywhere, car’s stuck in a mountain of white stuff. The weatherman says to expect another 10″ of that mess again tonight. Do you know how many shovels full of snow 10″ is?

    DEC 28: The stupid weatherman was wrong. We got 34″ of that white stuff this time. At this rate it won’t melt before the summer. The snow-plow got stuck up in the road and that fool came to the door and asked to borrow my shovel. After I told him I had broken six shovels already shoveling all the snow he pushed into the driveway, I broke the last one over his fat head! He is suing me.

    JAN 4: Finally got out of the house today. Went to the store to get food and on the way back, a damned deer ran in front of the car and I hit it. Did about $3,000 damage to the car. Those beasts should be killed. Wish the hunters had killed them all last November!

    APRIL 3: All that snow is finally melted. Now the basement is full of water and the driveway is 6″ deep in mud. Car got stuck and I had to call the tow truck. Guess who was driving it and he hadn’t forgotten the snow shovel incident.

    MAY 3: Took the car to the garage in town. Would you believe the thing is rusting out from that stupid salt they put all over the roads. Had to pay $200 to have them fix the broken spring from the frost heaves.

    MAY 10: Black flies are so thick I can’t even see out of the car windshield.

    JUNE 21: Planted a garden but the deer came out of the woods and ate the plants. I went to town today to buy a gun. If I see one of those four-legged vegematics I am going to blow its head off!

    JULY 7: Moved to our new home in Miami. It’s beautiful here. The beaches are great! I Can’t imagine why anyone would want to live in that god-forsaken State of Maine!

  10. #10 shera yapı
    February 12, 2011

    I agree Steve.Thanks.

  11. #11 Don
    February 12, 2011

    When the weather warms early like it appears it’s going to, I always worry about the fruit trees, grape vines, and other blossoming perennials. If it warms too much too quickly, they bud out and then a freeze gets them. I’d rather it warm gradually and then stay warm when spring comes, but that’s increasingly unlikely in our increasingly weird climate situations.

  12. #12 Claire
    February 12, 2011

    We had a high of 51F in St. Louis today. It also seems like winter’s back is breaking here. I finally got all of the sleet-turned-to-ice shoveled off the driveway and started pruning the clump of elderberries that has grown together and encroached on the witch hazel. Speaking of the witch hazel, it started blooming; that’s my sign that winter has begun to transition to spring.

  13. #13 Sharon Astyk
    February 13, 2011

    Don, you are right, of course, and there are all sorts of compelling reasons for not wanting an early spring. That said, I want an early spring ;-).

    Stephen, that’s hysterical, and so accurate!

    Sharon

  14. #14 Greenpa
    February 13, 2011

    Sharon; have you read Scott Nearing’s book on maple sugaring? Called, I think, (The Maple Sugar Book.)

    Man, did he ever do his homework; though it predates “modern” practices like plastic tubing and high-tech evaporators, he had more facts crammed in there than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. Really “good stuff”, and a sideways insight into one of the founders of “back to the land”.

    We’ve stopped doing more than a little ceremonial tapping here, though we used to actually make syrup and sugar to sell. The biggest reason is that the seasons have become highly erratic, and usually extremely short, compared to historical patterns.

    Something I don’t recall being in Nearing’s book, which I just ran into last year; Korea has a huge maple tapping practice, also; but not for sugar or syrup; they package and sell the straight fresh sap. It’s an ancient traditional “spring tonic” sort of thing; goes for very fancy prices in the city.

    If you haven’t ever tried it, do try just making your tea with maple sap. Very nice. Works for cocoa, too, though to my palate it comes out a little too sweet; and for plain coffee, I find it just a bit strange.

    We do drink quite a bit just straight out of the bucket. The Koreans are on to something.

  15. #15 Greenpa
    February 13, 2011

    (absolutely CRUCIAL clarification; it was the Korean sap stuff I just ran into last year; I ran into Nearing 30 very odd years ago.)
    :-)

  16. #16 Stephen B.
    February 13, 2011

    Using raw sap would be okay if done right away, but sap spoils so if one wants to keep it around for a bit, I think it needs pasteurization and sealing, i.e., some type of canning.

    Thoughts/experiences appreciated of course.

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