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Making Maple Syrup is Sweeter with a Cultural Connection

Tapping maple sugar trees may not be an efficient way to get maple syrup, but it's definitely worth it.

The weather was warm and sunny last week, so I pulled on my "serious" boots and tapped nine of my sugar maple trees.  It was a little early, but the weather was so warm and the snow was melting fast.  Those two feet of snow we got in January?  The open areas were already well under a foot.  

I documented tapping a maple tree for sap in 2007.  None of the clothes, boots, or tools has changed since.  When it works well, ….

You might ask why I wander around my backyard now since Caledonia in February and March is not the most pleasant weather.  I grew up in New England – Western Massachusetts – and tapping trees was what people did.  Once while visiting my sister in Vermont my four-year-old son and I tapped a tree, and then we boilled down the sap to a half cup of syrup.  The activity helped cement his cultural heritage.  Today I make the syrup to pass out to my grandchildren and other family, none of whom are fortunate enough to make their own.  Caledonia helps me keep our heritage alive.

The trees I tap pretty much surround my back yard, and we share the space with the other residents.  A raccoon checked out one tree to see if he could reach any of the sugar he smelled.  I know because he left a perfectly formed paw print in the snow.  The deer literally play around the open space, and bed down at the margins where the wind is less.  I’ll feel less kindly toward them when they step daintily over my garden fence and nibble all the tender vegetable shoots.  One day, I saw paw prints from a visiting coyote.  They keep my rabbit population in check, so I don’t complain about them.

Lest anyone think that tapping maple trees is “living off the fat of the land,” remember that it must be boiled down, a lot.  Five gallons of sap will boil down to less than a quart of syrup.  I use my kitchen stove, and I don’t look at the electric bill. 

My 100 percent natural, organic syrup depends on a sizable amount of electricity from a coal fired power plant that puts mercury into our air and water and molybdenum into the ground, not to mention a large amount of carbon dioxide into the air.  If I used a wood fired boiler I would avoid the mercury and molybdenum and the energy would be renewable, but it would take a lot more work.  We all make our compromises. Perhaps someday when I think my time is worth less than now, I’ll go to wood for boiling sap. Then it will be 100 percent natural, organic, Caledonia maple syrup.

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