We’ve pulled the taps, collected the bags, finished the syrup and retired (we hope) the old, worn out sap evaporator we’ve used for almost 40 years!
The old girl gave us tons of memories, burned more than a few pans of sap/syrup, and put a twinkle in the eyes of dozens of children AND adults. She started as a custom job – weighing over 500 pounds with I-beam sled runners so she could be pulled around and a 3/8 inch steel fire box.
My father Francis had her commissioned shortly after his first foray into maple syrup. I can still remember him coming in out of the woods with two 5 gallon pails of sap hanging from a yoke around his neck. A modern day, self-imposed beast of burden. Throwback to the oxen on the Red River Trail that passed just along the southern boundary of our property.
He quickly decided that wasn’t going to be the model for his sugar bush – not if he wanted to make more than a few quarts of syrup. So he upgraded- having the new cooker made and using the first in a long-line of Johnson Work House snowmobiles with their iconic sea foam green color. They even had reverse!
Just under ten years ago we pulled it down into the sugar bush – ‘to the source’. We thought it would be easier to haul syrup out of the woods rather than thousands of gallons of sap. It was a good move and has worked well for us.
Making syrup is not a complicated process. You simply tap the trees when nature says its time and accept what is offered. There is no making as much as you want. You get what you get. Sometimes that means your work round the clock to collect and cook down the sap quickly, while its still fresh. And sometimes you tap the trees, hang the bags only to take it all down and put it away without even lighting a fire.
Regardless of the volume of sap and syrup it is a great time to be in the woods. Thing are happening!
Snow is melting, creeks and rills are running fast with spring melt and rains. Northerns, walleye and sucker are making their annual run up the creek. Migratory birds are crisscrossing the skies. The whistle of the wood ducks come through the woods, the trumpeter swans announce their presence long before you see them as they fly up the creek valley. And the tom turkeys are letting everyone know that spring has arrived!
We are hopeful that 2018 will bring us an enclosed Sugar Shack and a new cooker. But unlike the fickle nature of sap and syrup, that will all be up to us.
I hope you can join us in the woods next year!