The Way Out Here

A sappy story

By HUNTER HILL
Posted 3/18/20

Smoke filled the sky across the road at our neighbor’s house; white puffy billows came upward from behind their garage. Even fully aware that it was sap season, I was at first startled and …

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The Way Out Here

A sappy story

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Smoke filled the sky across the road at our neighbor’s house; white puffy billows came upward from behind their garage. Even fully aware that it was sap season, I was at first startled and concerned for them, given the fire that happened there just a few winters ago. Fortunately, this was just the smoke from their sap house as they cooked off the excess water from the sap they had collected so far. Like a Native American smoke signal, I took this as a sign that my neighbor Frank was busy inside. With that knowledge and the knowledge that my wife desperately needed a five-minute sanity break from watching our son, I bundled him up, grabbed my new camera and strolled across the road to see how Frank was making out.

It’s a blessing having neighbors that are open like that and able to shoot the breeze with. The way out here is neighborly, and the Muellers are no exception. I’m sure I looked rather peculiar standing in the doorway, child in one arm and camera slung over the other, when Frank met my knock at the sap house entry. I stepped in and allowed my son to stand on his own and play with the nearby stack of kindling (best toy you can get for a young boy: a stick). With my offspring placated, I turned to chat with Frank. He was casually busy, stirring the sap in the evaporating tray atop the wood stove that cooked the sweet sticky liquid. As we spoke, he regularly scooped out some of the liquid to be tested for temperature along with its thickening appearance as he watched it pour. As portions finished cooking, he began to filter it to prepare it for bottling. Not as quick and exciting as watching paint dry, but certainly more rewarding come breakfast time. As a matter of fact, Frank had been cooking for several hours at that point, boiling down nearly 300 gallons if I heard him right. Out of curiosity, I asked him how much syrup he normally got from all that sap. His reply was that a lot of folks were getting around a gallon of syrup for every 50 gallons of sap, but he was getting that for every 25 gallons. I asked him why and he explained the trees were producing much more sugar in the sap he was cooking. More sugar, more syrup; made sense to me. As I clicked a few pictures of his stove and watched him move the sap along through the troughs as it cooked to different levels, my son contentedly smacked small sticks of firewood against each other and enjoyed the sauna-like warmth of the inside of the sap house. Frank talked about the buckets he hung to collect the sap and how he brought them all down to fill the reservoir that fueled his current operation. 

It was one of those warm afternoons we’ve been having lately, and I couldn’t help but feel just a little lackadaisical thinking of a warm plate of pancakes with plenty of maple syrup to drown them in, accompanied by a generous pad of butter. Pancakes in the afternoon, if you didn’t know, are in fact a redneck luxury. If no one has coined that bit of wisdom, well then, you read it here first. That’s the way out here: neighborly visits, a warm woodstove, pancakes in the afternoon and taking the boy for a little country field trip while his momma gets her rest. I’ll be talking to Frank again soon regarding that syrup. It’s like Christmas, only coming once a year, but what a sweet time of year it is.

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