Even though Western Massachusetts has been thrown back into winter, which doesn’t remind me very much of sugaring weather, I will continue my nostalgic musings about sugaring in my childhood days.
We finished washing sap buckets the next day after school. Datt scattered the clean buckets throughout the woods the following day. When we came home that afternoon, Mem said Datt was out tapping trees and he wanted us to go and help him as soon as we could. She described which part of the woods he was in. Mem and Datt owned forty acres of trees. There were beech, oak, hickory, pine, and some trees only Datt could name, but most of them were sugar maples. Nobody thought Datt was intelligent, but when it came to trees it seemed that he had at least one area of intelligence. He had only gone through fifth grade in school and his father had died when he was thirteen years old, so it didn’t make sense that he knew the names of every kind of tree in two languages and the characteristics of each variety. I never did find out how he learned what he knew about trees.
We called out several times when we got to the woods, but got no answer. Datt was hard of hearing and making noise besides. We stayed still for a minute, and then we heard a tap, tap, tap. We followed the sound and called again. That time he heard us. He had a big toothless grin when he saw us and showed us how fast the sap was running. Datt was happiest when he was in his sugar bush.
We followed him around the woods as he drilled holes, one or two in each tree. My older sister, Lizzie, carried the bucket of spouts that we called spiles and stuck them into the drilled holes. I tapped them firmly with a hammer. Sarah and Susan hung the buckets and put on the covers. Almost immediately, we could hear the “plink… plink… plink” as drops of sap fell into the empty buckets.
Datt knew just where to drill the holes. He changed where he drilled the holes each year, so the old ones could heal. He also didn’t hang as many buckets on each tree as other farmers. Only the biggest trees got three buckets. Other farmers might have put five or six on those same trees. Datt believed it wasn’t good for the trees to hang so many.
It felt good to help Datt with what he loved doing, as I tramped through the woods in the fresh spring air and watched the first sap drip out of spiles in the maple trees.
When dusk fell, Datt said we would finish the next day. On our way home, we heard a bird whistle its lonesome, Wheeeee–Whoooooo! from the top of one of the tallest trees. We imitated it and the bird answered back. Sarah said it was the chickadee’s mating call. She knew a lot about birds.
When we got to the house, we all took off our boots on the landing. The smell of Mem’s dinner wafted into the entrance. She had made scalloped potatoes, meatloaf, fried carrots, and applesauce with whipped cream, with blackberry cobbler for dessert. I knew she would be out in the sugarhouse boiling sap in a few days, and then we would make do with eating in shifts and taking her or Datt’s supper to the sugar house, so I savored this while it lasted.
I will continue my narrative about sugaring in my next post. Please send me any questions you may have.