Here is a dispatch from Joe Renish who joined the woods crew this season:
Clomp, clomp, swoosh. Clomp, clomp, swoosh. The slog up from the sugarhouse is arduous as the snowfall accumulation this winter has been nothing short of bountiful. A few precise strides give way to a snowshoe-devouring collapse of the bleached, glistening, snow-wrapped surface of the woods road that the crew utilizes to guide us into Eden.
Tapping season was nothing short of enchanting, exhausting, and academic. As a new addition to the crew, I enrolled in the expeditious but remarkably effective boot camp that the Cotys have constructed through decades of sugaring in Nebraska Valley. The effort that our three-man crew (including the Chief of Operations) put forth in order to tap the 9,700 or so sugar maples was nothing short of colossal; Mother Nature had placed us in a precarious position as her forecast would manifest the fundamental ingredients for a significant early sap run.
The early mornings cultivate long days in the sugarbush, drilling and driving taps, drilling and driving, drilling and driving. Did I also mentioning hiking? The ground that a crew member covers – combined with the bush-whacking, seesawing elevation profile, and fifty pounds of tools on your back – provides the kind of challenge necessary to shake the thicket of dust and cobwebs that a winter in Vermont can promote.
As we press on through this sugar season, the weather and conditions on the hill have been dynamic to say the least. Early February, as expected, was composed of bitter weather and significant snow accumulation. The passage of February and the introduction of March have brought unseasonably warm temperatures and a significant measure of rain to the valley. The spring-like weather has drastically deteriorated snow conditions, making travel through the sugarbush considerably more efficient.
While the physically enduring nature of work taken on by the woods crew can often be wearisome, the dividends repaid after a long day on the hill are gold-for-the-soul. Working in synergy with the hill to yield a product that cannot be reproduced through the contemporary, artificial practices of modern food production is in itself as gratifying and rewarding as one could ever imagine, but on certain days the hill has a way of providing a visual representation of the gracious collaboration that is maple syrup. I was able to capture what I call “the witching hour” on the hill: It’s a handshake with the Universe after a long day.
QUICK UPDATE: The sap finally ran today; we will boil tomorrow.