In the northeast, winter days can seem to drag on after the holiday season. Snowstorms seen to occur every three days and a constantly blowing wind chills the air to -10oF. It’s the type of weather that makes you wonder why humans don’t hibernate. While we can’t control the seasons; winter will always bring shorter days, the moon will revolve around the earth and the earth will revolve around the sun, we can change our mindset and that is what maple sugaring is about.
The maple sugaring season is almost a spiritual experience that lifts you through the last doldrums of winter. It ignites every sense. Imagine hearing the taps of sap into a metal bucket hung on a tree, the sweet steam lifting off the evaporator immersing your nose in warmth, the crackling fire fueling the evaporator, and of course the sweet taste of liquid gold. The whole experience does not occur unless the right weather conditions are present.
The release of sap in the spring is a sign that the trees are finally waking up from their winter rest. The ideal sap running conditions are warm days and cold nights. This temperature fluctuation causes the sap to run up and down the tree each day. The maple season may only last for as little as ten days, but they are an intense ten days. Intense because of the time needed to collect and boil down the sap, and it is the boiling down of the sap that takes the most time.
Do you ever wonder why pure maple syrup tends to cost five times more than pancake syrup? It because it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup! There is a lot of energy involved to boil down the sap that contains 2% sugar to the sticky syrup containing 66% sugar content. Everyone around helps collect sap, tend to the evaporator, and bottle syrup. Tremendous effort goes into each gallon of syrup and it is all worth it in the end. There is no better feeling than creating something from start to finish and enjoying your success with the ones you cherish.
There are signs in nature that tell you when the maple season is over. The temperature stays above freezing during the night ceasing the sap to run up and down the tree. The buds on the trees start to burst open and the sap turns cloudy and is less sweet. A natural siren goes off-spring peepers serenade the woods as they emerge from their winter hibernation. It’s a bittersweet ending for the sugaring season. The transformation of sap to syrup is over for the year, but now the forest has come back to life and it is time for spring.
Post by Marlena Vera-Schockner, SCA Member served at Taconic Outdoor Education Center at Fahnestock State Park, 2015