Sugaring

I was about 8 years old, sitting at my antiquated desk in the antiquated grammar school in my district of Toronto. This was about 1945, and John R. Wilcox School was living in the 1930s, but that’s another story. This story is about sugaring, the wonderful procedure of extracting sap from trees and making into one of the world’s wonderful, natural treats. I mention the school because that’s where I was when I opened a book and saw an illustration that stayed in my mind for decades. Actually, to this day, I can easily see that picture in my mind’s eye.

The illustration was of a family, ‘sugaring off’, as they refer to it. A large workhorse was harnessed to a sturdy wooden sled. A man sat on a bench at the front of the sled, and held the reigns to steady the horse. The sled bore a large, round, metal tub. People were gathering buckets from trees. The simple line-drawn illustration made a strong impression on me, although I have no idea why. I wished I could have that experience. I remember a time, many years ago, when I was at a New Year’s Eve house party in Paris. A gentleman approached me and asked if Maple Syrup is Canada’s national beverage. I explained that it comes from hardwood trees, and is used similarly to honey. They found it difficult to believe.

I had the sap to syrup experience, 40 years later. We owned a horse farm in the mountains, as a hobby. We had an agreement with a neighbouring farming family, wherein they could seed and harvest the open fields, and tap the Maple forest for sap. When the early spring weather was right, the sweet sap began to flow. Freezing cold nights and bright, warmer days bring the sap into its run.

I was happy to volunteer to help with the Maple harvest. I found myself in that drawing from many years ago. The smell of the horse, the steam from his nostrils, and the jingle of the chains and buckles on his tack set the background sound. Cheerful voices of the half dozen people expressed pleasure with the yield. It requires 40 liters of sap to make a single liter of syrup. The buckets hang on small spigots that are drilled into the trunks of healthy Maple trees. These are unique buckets with convex bottoms, so they cannot be used for other purposes because they will not stand up.

We picked up buckets, one at a time. Each was carried from the tree to the sled with the large tub on it. We poured our sweet sap, clear as water, into the tub. A cover on the tub had a hole wherein we poured the sap. Efforts are made to keep insects and leaf bits out of the sap. They could discolour it, so it couldn’t be made into the clearest, number one syrup. The buckets are also mostly covered with metal lids.

I was privileged to go to the sugar house that night, under a bright moon. I fed the pieces of firewood to the old man as he fed them to the fire. He was boiling the sweet, watery sap into sweet, flowing syrup. It was especially a privilege to be there, because I was able to watch the old man teach his sons and daughter how to do it right. He’d take a ladle of the hot liquid and hold it up to let the golden syrup pour in a long stream, back into the cooker. He’d eye the consistency and the colour, and advise the siblings on what to observe.

The adventure ended that night with two sweet things: I got to taste a spoonful of Maple syrup, hot, straight from the cooker. The second thing was the ride back down to the road from the sugar house in the hills. There was a bold, full moon in the black velvet sky. The path to the road was deep mud. I stood on a fitting of some kind on the rear of the tractor, between the huge rear wheels. Looking down, I could see the squished mud moving past, a few inches beneath my feet.

It had taken 4 decades, but I did, at last, live that drawing that had so captured my imagination. I believe, if you keep a vision in your mind, without aggressively doing anything to realize it, it will come to pass on its own. Take care not to hold negative images, because they, too, will be realized. Read Psycho Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. It worked for me

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