It was a rough winter here in the northeastern US of A. We had snow up to our brains, cold blasting out our ears, and ice-encrusted souls. In the city, we fought for parking spots with pickaxes and guardian garbage cans, and the good people of rural New England chuckled around their woodstoves as they watched coverage of our sorry marooned souls. By and by, April arrived, but spring in these parts, as many-a gentle reader may know, is similarly no bloody joke. My compatriots in the North Country are still chinking frost and snow off their windshields in the morning, and recently endured days of post-April Fool’s Day snow. Jack Frost, does your cruelty know no limits? Here in Boston, the snowbanks have disappeared and the green blades of crocuses are poking timidly through the rotted autumn leaves. Soon we’ll be blessed with mud and biting insects. Ah, sweet poetry of spring.
And yet, there is good to be reaped from this cursed season, this ellipsis of winter. One of the magical products of northeastern springtime: the much-hallowed maple syrup. When the days get warm and the nights stay chilly, the sugar maples start sending the sap up through their tree veins, and enterprising folk hammer their taps into maple trunks, collect this sweet tree water, and transform it into liquid gold. Despite spending my childhood in New England, I had never actually taken part in this process, so DG and I jumped at an invitation from our friends in northern Vermont, Julie and Ben, to join their family for a weekend, take part in the gathering, and learn how the magic happens. They promised a genuine old-school Vermont maple-sugaring experience, complete with bucket-hauling, draft horses, a sugar shack, and meals cooked on a woodstove — with one caveat. read more »