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Spiles, buckets and rubber tubing

03/05/03 12:00AM By Will Curtis
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(Host) Commentator Will Curtis says that no matter how hard or long the winter, sooner or later the sap begins to run.

(Curtis) I remember a saying back when we were farming that, in late winter if anyone knocked on the door and said, "I want to buy your farm," you'd sign the papers in a minute. It's then that farmers find their spirits flagging. Is there enough hay to last to spring? Is the silage going to hold out?

So it was that farmers could hardly wait for sugaring to begin - a chance to get out of the barn, to break the never ending daily routine of milking, feeding, cleaning, feeding and milking. I remember that in old-fashioned snowy winters the snow drifts were so deep that scarcely any light came through the stable windows. Do you suppose that I and other farmers were experiencing what today they call "light deprivation?"

But no matter how those days seem to drag, time always comes when it's time to sugar. In fact that's what the chickadees say at sugar time. Listen carefully when you go out to the bird feeder in early spring; sure enough, a chickadee will announce, "Sweetie, it's time to sugar!"

In the old days, spiles and buckets, stored in the shed since last spring would be cleaned of spiders and dust, the team harnessed up to the sledge. The horses were as glad to get out to work as their owner. The winding road through the sugar bush to the sugar house was broken out. Snowshoes were checked for repairs to the webbing; gathering tanks and holding tanks were readied. Plenty of wood for firing the arch had been already gathered in late spring.

Then It was time to really start the operation, to tap out; buckets and spiles were loaded into the sledge, snowshoes strapped on and up we would go into the bush. Taking a bucket, drill, hammer and spile, we would go from tree to tree, looking up into the crown to see which side had the most branches and there drilled an upward slanting hole. The spile was hammered in, the bucket hung with its cover and so on we went on through the bush.

Today of course, it's all plastic tubing running downhill to the holding tank just outside sugarhouses. It's a lot easier but perhaps today's sugar makers miss some of the fun, going from tree to tree on snowshoes, carefully pouring the sap into buckets hanging from a shoulder yoke. It was like a treasure hunt, finding a tree that seemed to almost pour forth its sap like a fountain.

It seemed that we farmers who were lucky enough to sugar didn't need to get away to the south in early spring. Instead of palm trees we had our own maples, and a hot fire in the arch, and what could be more fun than a sugaring off party with sugar on snow and pickles!

Will Curtis of Woodstock, Vermont.
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