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04/10/07 12:00AM By Edith Hunter
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(HOST) Commentator Edith Hunter is sugaring again this spring - by fits and starts.

(HUNTER) I keep pretty detailed records of my sugaring experience dating back to 1971. I'm always surprised to see how often I have written "unusual season" beside my annual entries.

Sure enough, this has been an "unusual season" - a very unusual season. Graham tapped out on February 28th and gathered for the first time several days later. Our first boil was on March 5th. Because ours is such a small operation, forty-two taps, I cannot take off any syrup the first time we boil. Experts tell me this is called "sweetening the pan."

Instead of being followed up immediately by the second boil, everything warmed up so the sap didn't run. Then, everything froze up, so not only did it not run, but the sap we had gathered froze solid in the collecting barrel. It was not until March 23rd, that we had enough sap for our second boil. We made our first gallon, plus one quart and a half pint of Fancy grade syrup, and the next day we took off twice, and made another two gallons and a quart. Then, it stopped again.

I say "we" because without Graham and his wife Susan I wouldn't be sugaring. They do the gathering, and Graham assists in the take off and brings me the pail of "almost ready" syrup for me to finish off on the kitchen stove in the house. Here I grade and can it.

My sugarhouse reading this year is John Muir, the naturalist. I had asked son Will, a used book purchaser, to bring me a book that wouldn't suffer from a possible patina of maple sap. He brought me a biography of John Muir.

The library in this house already included a great deal of Muir material since he spent his life as a naturalist in California, where my husband grew up. John Muir was a hero to the Hunter family who shared his Scotch heritage and his love of the California mountains. After I finished the biography, during the frequent lulls in the season, I have taken several of our Muir books off the shelf to read.

One book, John Muir and his Legacy, by Stephen Fox, is a biography and a history of the American Conservation Movement. Muir was the first president of the Sierra club, elected at its founding in 1892. Muir's philosophy is summed up in this quote from that book: "The world we are told was made for man, a presumption that is totally unsupported by facts."

As I wait for the sugar season to resume, if it ever does, nature is clearly unaware that I am here, waiting.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center.


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