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Maple Syrup Memories

April 15, 2009

Yesterday I took my two young children, Olivia & Nikolaus to a maple syrup farm. Not just any farm, my farm. Well, the farm I grew up on and learned, first hand all about maple syrup, hard work and the beauty of nature.

When we drove through the woods around the circle driveway and approached the sugar house I could see my younger self walking through the woods. You see, for years I’ve told just about everyone I know that “I grew up on a farm”. I love telling that. I’m very proud of that life I lived. Now. Back then, I just had a lot of fun. I thought everyone had acreage and farm animals and could have maple syrup on every single imaginable food item. In fact, I devoured so much maple syrup growing up that I don’t have it on pancakes anymore, instead, I prefer peanut butter, with bacon.

Seeing that Sugar House wasn’t a disappointment at all. It has stayed the same. There have been some improvements, but many of the same things that were there when I grew up are still there. My kids ran inside and found the “doggie door” that I told them about. We had two dogs growing up, a collie, Shep and a beagle, Moxie. They would come inside the Sugar House through that little door. I’m sure it wasn’t made for that, but that was how it was used. And occasionally one of the six kids in my family would attempt crawling through that door as well. There were a pair of snow shoes that my Father and brother and our neighbor helpers would use them as they traipsed through the woods, drilling holes in trees, inserting spiles and hanging pails. Only to go back and dump those pails into gathering tanks, drive through the woods collecting all the way and eventually making its way to the Sugar House.

On the wall there were newspaper articles, wrinkled, yellowed but still there, showing photos of my Father collecting sap and watching over the sap in the evaporator. I even found a pamphlet from 1967-68 with a price list, One Gallon Syrup $6.00. Today, a gallon of pure maple syrup can sell from $42.00 – $65.00. And with all the inside information I have about the production (40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup), the human hours it takes to collect, produce and bottle that beautiful liquid gold of nature I say hike those prices up. It’s worth every single penny. Especially when you taste the simple beauty of a light amber, or the earthiness of a darker amber.

There were buckets around, even though most of the sap collecting is now done with tubing (we saw it like a giant spider web linking all the trees together). The buckets brought back another memory. This one was, bucket washing day. On the sunniest day of the weekend our parents could find, hundreds of buckets lined our back yard, towering above us. We made an assembly line and would run buckets to the washing table, a giant rotating brush would clean the inside of the buckets, they would be dipped in clean water and then we would place them on the lawn to dry. I don’t know why, but that was one of my favorite maple syrup duties. Perhaps because it signaled the end of syrup season and the beginning of summer?

I’m so glad I took my kids to see where their Mom grew up. I know it gives more vivid pictures to the stories I’ve told them and actually felt good for me to see and remember all the hard work and pleasures I grew up with. I think one of the reasons I’m so proud to tell everyone that I grew up on a farm is that it was good honest work, surrounded by my family when we were happy and unaware of the life changes soon to come.

I now know that my early years on the farm helped shape who I am. I know that I’m capable of really hard work and have the ability to work well with others (well most of the time – an occasional sisterly spat here and there) and I know that there is a sense of pride and ownership of work well done and a product that continues to be enjoyed by so many people. Those are the kind of qualities I look for in people who I work with and the company standards that stand out from the rest.

I’d like to hear your “maple syrup” memories and how they’ve left their mark on you.

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