Maple sugaring is a long-standing dialogue Vermonters have had with our thickly forested state. Early Yankee settlers first learned to tap Maples for sap from original Abenaki natives who had practiced a form of sugaring for thousands of years. In 2012, with an abnormally warm winter and a poor sugaring season, some tree tappers are becoming concerned. Not only is it a source of livelihood, sugaring is an artistic form of engagement with the natural world. Over spring break, while skateboarding in NYC in 80 degree weather during what is usually the height of sugaring season, we had the chance to hang out with vimeo staffer, videographer and sugarer, Ian Durkin. Suffice it to say, he’s an awesome guy. Usually around March/April he’s up sugaring with family in Vermont.
Here is “March,” a piece by Ian that reveals the aesthetics of sugaring along with some words by him on the practice.
How was this sugaring season? – what with the 80 degree temperatures we had in mid-March and all? That’s prime time for sugaring right?
We unfortunately missed the window this year on when we were planning on sugaring. The sap runs best when it is below freezing at night and above freezing during the day in the 40s or so. The 80 degree weather came out of nowhere and we were consequently hosed.
How long has this sugaring operation been going? Is there a chance that you or anyone else in the family will continue the tradition?
It’s been going on for as long as I can remember. I can recall being a little guy and carrying buckets of sap up and down the road thinking my arm would fall off while fresh syrup poured into dixie cups filled of snow was the reward. I hope to continue the tradition, as I certainly look forward to it each and every year.
What part of the sugaring process do you most enjoy?
These days, I enjoy sitting in the sugar shack til the small hours of the night, keeping the fire going, waiting for a boil, hanging out and listening to music with friends and family.
In his memoir The Frog Run, sugarer John Elder, from Bristol Vermont, says that “the pulse of sap” can awake one from winter to the coming of spring. The anticipation of spring can begin with sugaring, but at the same time, Elder points out that when sugaring and “standing in the warm, sticky sugarhouse” there is also a desire that things slow down. He explains, “we long to dwell in this protracted in-between.”
What does the process of sugaring do to you? How does it effect your perspective/attitude/being? Do you feel sped up? Are you slowed down?
Boiling is a slow and methodical process. The definitive task mixed with the sweet air, spring sun and warming temperatures makes it very enjoyable. There is no place you really need to go nor want to be but close to the sugar shack, keeping the fire hot and waiting for the next boil.
Last question: are you a Grade A Fancy kinda guy? Light Amber? Dark Amber? What do you recommend to all those that shamelessly drizzle Aunt Jemima’s corn syrup on their pancakes?
I’ve always been fond of the Grade B and I suggest that they get with the program!