At least I didn't have to do all the work myself. After the trees were tapped, it was up to me and trusty brother-in-law Carman to trudge out to each tree, collect the sap, pour it in buckets, haul it back to the main tank and figure out how much we'd collected.
The thing about Carman is that he never treats me differently than he'd treat his brothers, which means he lets me shoulder my share of the work. While he may raise an eyebrow if I appear to be taking on more than my tiny muscles can possibly bear, he doesn't try to rescue me unless I squeal for help. Usually, I like and respect being treated as an equal, but after lugging endless 5 gallon buckets of sap over slippery trails day after day, I started to wonder whether acting like a damsel in distress would be all that bad. My pride prevented me from trying to find out.
Have you ever collected sap before? I hadn't. First, you have to load the aforementioned empty 5 gallon buckets onto a sled. Then you pull the a sled through various muddy snowbanks, chuck it and the buckets over fences and petrified cow pats until you get to the tree line. The kids were not amused when I made off with their favourite sled.
Then comes the collecting. It's fraught with various hazards, such as treacherous snowbanks that gave way without warning, branches that claw at your eyes like angry dryads, steep hills and big holes.. And don't get me started on deer and bunny shit. Those critters are poo machines and they seem to enjoy making their deposits right underneath the sap pails.
Most of the days were mild and clear. All the trudging and lifting and pouring and pulling would make Carman and I sweat like we were running a marathon. "At least we're getting our exercise," I'd pant. "Outta shape, Kimmy?" Carm would respond. Overcome with thirst one day, I hid behind a tree and swigged ice cold sap right out of the pail. It was like drinking some magic potion. As the cool liquid spilled down my throat, I felt instantly refreshed. Later I caught Carman had been doing the same thing.
Our usual habit was to park the sleds on one side of the barbed wire fence in the pasture and empty each small pail of sap into the bigger buckets. Then we'd haul the buckets, sloshing and ungainly, back to the fence, mash them through and load them back onto the sled. Although as a kid I'd been no stranger to hopping various fences - electric and barbed included - the forty-something me was sadly out of practice. I always made sure Carm's back was turned before I attempted to squeeze through to avoid any extra humiliation. If I'd been getting any money for my labour, I would have asked for hazard pay.
As winter reluctantly loosened its grasp and allowed spring to finally unfurl herself, the snow gave way to mountains of mud and the crisp, fresh air turned damp and pungent. We abandoned our sled in favour of the kids' little red wagon. Carman and I made trip after trip across the fields, hauling gallons of sap in the wagon. "There HAS GOT to be a better way," I would gasp every time, feeling like an abused mule. The boys forbid me to drive a tractor on the tender fields for fear of wrecking the soil, but I was sure that even Pa Ingalls wouldn't have worked THIS hard. Finally Carman took pity on me and hooked the wagon up to...the lawn tractor. Embarrassing yes, but not nearly as exhausting. And I did not allow photos.
Tromping around in the woods gives you the chance to experience moments of exquisite beauty: a pure blue sky with a slice of moon floating in it; velvet mosses clinging to tree trunks; the creak and song of tree limbs moving in the wind. There's also the unique sensation of being slapped in the face repeatedly by branches, falling knee-down in cold mud and putting your hand into a pile of raccoon poop. That's what I love about nature; it's a study in contrasts. Sometimes you just have to take a moment and savour the experience, even when it's smelly.
This is me, up in a tree, savouring the moment.
Next up: how to make syrup and burn your eyebrows off.