Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Romantic Vision vs. Reality

When I signed up to collect sap from maple trees at a local park, I have visions of crisp, sunny afternoons, frozen ground, a little snow.

When I arrived at the park yesterday afternoon, it was raining and the ground had thawed. To reach the first tree and bucket, I slogged through slick, wet leaves.

Snapping the top off the first metal bucket, I looked inside and groaned.

It was full of sap.

Sap flow is regulated by temperature. About 24 hours earlier, the temperature climbed above freezing and stayed there.

The park had tapped about 30 maple trees within 250 yards of the sugar shack. My job on this rainy afternoon was to collect sap and carry it to the sugar shack. There, I put it in plastic barrels. When the park had 60-80 gallons, it would boil it and make maple syrup.

Over the weekend, when the daytime temperatures barely rose about freezing, my husband and I had collected about a gallon of sap one day and about 14 gallons the following day.

On this rainy day, I'd collected two gallons from the first tree.

But not all trees produce the same amount of sap. The next three trees produced just over two gallons of sap.

Still, it was going to be a long, wet afternoon.

But not a cold one.

There is nothing like carrying buckets of sap to warm the body.

As I carried those buckets, I thought of horse camping and endurance riding, and how we always seemed to be so far from the water tank, and how it always seemed to be 90 degrees.

When I was endurance riding -- some 20-plus years ago -- I had a co-worker who had romantic notions of those weekends of horseback riding and camping.

"You might want to rethink the corn on the cob," he said, when I told him about my packing list. "You know, corn between the teeth -- not that attractive."

I explained that by the end of the weekend, I would have gone several days without a shower and be wearing dried sweat, horse hair, dirt, hay chaff, and dirty clothes.

"Corn between my teeth is the least of my worries," I told him.

Yesterday at the park, I carried more buckets than I ever carried at an endurance ride. When finished, I noted that there were 34 trees tapped -- not the 30 that I was told, and I'd collected almost 50 gallons of sap.

Although the weather wasn't my romantic ideal, I didn't mind it after a while. The rain kept others from the park, and I found myself listening, trying to distinguish the difference between the tap, tap, tap of sap falling into a metal bucket and the tap, tap, tap of rain falling from leaves.

PHOTO: The park district gives its volunteers samples of the maple syrup.

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