April 22. It is a Saturday afternoon in late April, eleven days out from the final boiling day, and all seems familiar. Wild leeks near the Keystone line are poking up 3-4″. Spring beauty buds are tight today but won’t be for long. Witch hobble blossoms and leaves are greening up at the edges. Falls Brook swells with rain; spring freshets chase down to it and will for a little while longer. Mrs. Raven still sits in her nest; Mr. Raven fusses. The sugarbush feels poised for the burst of abundant life.

Familiar too is noting the progress of the woods crew in knocking out taps and rinsing lines. They carry five-gallons of water on their backs to squirt into the tubing at each tap, refilling their backpack tanks at the freshets or at springs. It has been good working weather for the most part: cool, with no remaining rotten snow to wallow in.

As I hiked up to find leeks I recalled that today is Earth Day. At a lecture this winter I learned of the findings of forestry research, how trees network with each other via fungal systems, how they cooperate. Ecologists are modifying the old model of trees competing for resources; it seems they share! I feel so encouraged by news of the example forests have set for us all along.  http://e360.yale.edu/features/exploring_how_and_why_trees_talk_to_each_other.


During the long boil of April 10th, Joe, Ana Lucia, and I brainstormed ideas for an opera to be called The Work with the Sap.

We thought we’d set the scene through a depiction of some of the lowly tasks of the sugarhouse crew. Ana Lucia ( A.L. Fernandez) volunteered to write the libretto. She retreated to a secluded beach in Mexico and just sent this early draft:

El labor de la mañana (The labor of the dawn) (To be sung by the ensemble)
Nos despertamos temprano y nos preparamos para el día que nos trae la savia.
Quita la miel de ayer, ponlo en cubetas, raspa la orillas, echa agua, y aspira.
Ahora nada más falta empezar el fuego y limpiar el de desastre que hicimos.
We wake up early and prepare for the day the Sap brings us.
Remove the syrup from yesterday, put it in buckets, scrape the sides, add water, and vacuum.
Now all we need to do is start the fire and clean the disaster we made.
Migración de los barriles  (The migration of the drums from the sugarhouse to another building)  (Quartet for bass, baritone, tenor, and contralto)
El trabajo que más nos encanta.
Los barriles pesados nos ven de la esquina con una mirada de burla.
Son una muestra de nuestro trabajo largo de los días anteriores.
Te sientes fuerte hoy?
The job we love most.
The heavy drums look at us from the corner with a taunting look.
They are a show of our long work of the days before.
Do you feel strong today?
Drumroll, please. Photo credit: Laurie Silva

Primero, Segundo, Tercero, Cuarto (bass and soprano duet)

Es tiempo de llenar los 40 gallones de miel recién hecha.
Primero, baja los barriles sin que te aplasten.
Segundo, mete agua caliente sin que te quemes.
Tercero, dale vueltas sin que te canses.
Cuarto, saca el agua sin que te salpiques.
Ahora sí estás listo para llenarlo!
It’s time to fill the 40 gallons of fresh syrup.
First, bring down the drums without them smashing you.
Second, fill them with hot water without burning yourself.
Third, roll them around without tiring yourself out.
Fourth, take out the water without splashing yourself.
Now you’re ready to fill it!
The source of tension, altercations, and murderous intentions in The Work with the Sap is the hydrometer, innocently reposing here in the elegant hydrometer cup.
Everyone will get to sing about encounters with it. Here is our powerful tenor, Ross.

The soprano’s turn to check and adjust the density. Over? Under? Quick, the syrup’s backing up in the finish trough!
More exasperating is quickly and efficiently checking the density of syrup built up in the storage tank prior to drumming or bottling. Joe, our bass, deliberates before comparing the reading he gets (Brix scale) with the density chart.
The aria for this trio goes on for twenty minutes explaining how it takes three people twenty minutes to agree on a hydrometer reading, while a mad woman cries (coloratura here) through the steam.  Photo credit: Laurie Silva

One thought on “Saturday afternoon at the opera

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