We make pure maple syrup. Actually, my husband makes it. I just put it in jars or jugs once it's all thick and syrupy and sweet. Sugarin' off, as the process is sometimes called, is a busy time. It usually lasts about a month, and is totally controlled by the weather. It's the rhythm of freezing and thawing temperatures that makes the sugar water flow. Such conditions occur in our corner of the world between late January and early March. Those same freezing and thawing temperatures also mean mud. Don't be fooled by picturesque scenes of draft horses pulling barrel-laden sleds through white and fluffy snow to gather the water. More often than not, it's mud we're slogging through with the tractor or truck and a sturdy pair of muck boots.
For folks who don't know how it's done, the making of maple syrup is an odd process. Drilling small holes in perfectly healthy trees seems cruel to some, and the thought of eating something that flows out of those holes is a little foreign, even exotic. For those of us who have been around it for years, it's as natural as can be. It's a yearly ritual and a rite of spring. It's also a source of delicious syrup, a little (or a lot) of extra income, and sometimes sore muscles and aching backs. But it's also one of best times of the year because of the people it brings to our sugar house.
There's something about sugarin' that brings folks together. Family, neighbors, and friends all find their way here during syrup season, which makes all the hard work so much easier, even fun. Gathering the sugar water (that's what we in Highland County call it; the books call it sap) is happy work when you have someone along to help. All the lifting and carrying and pouring can get tiresome by yourself, but with a friend or neighbor it lightens considerably. Tending the sugar fires can get lonesome, even sleepy, with the hum of the boil, the steam, and the long hours, but with someone to talk to and reminisce with, the time flies by. And at the end of it all, there are jars and jugs of golden, yummy sweetness to share and enjoy.
So, if you find yourself in our neck of the woods during the next three or four weeks, come on by! If the weather cooperates, we'll be gathering and boiling and you're welcome to join us. Sometimes we're even in the sugar house without any sugar water to boil. It's just what we do this time of year!