Frog Water

Phrenology is the study of bumps on a person’s skull to determine certain aspects of the individual’s personality and character.

Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

The end of sugaring tends to come at about the same time amphibians thaw out and get active, so some sugar-makers call their final batches of syrup “frog water.” Appropriately, a small chorus of wood frogs was sounding off in the puddles as the fire was lit for an April Fools’ Day boil at Bobo’s last Friday afternoon.

April Showers

April Showers

Perhaps searching for something more substantial than a puddle, this frog wandered into a corner, where we discovered the shortcomings of auto focus in low light.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Rain spattered the metal roof and the back pan rumbled over the fire.

Friday Night in Vermont

Friday Night in Vermont

It turns out that frogs were not the only wandering amphibians that night, as a salamander was spotted, crossing the concrete floor. The salamander, of course, was spotted long before it crossed the concrete floor; we just didn’t see it until then.

A few minutes later, another one waddled past, headed in the same direction, and after that another salamander wandered in from the woodshed on one side of the building and out the open door opposite. In some places, the migrations of frogs and salamanders are accommodated by tunnels or, in some cases, crossing guards. We just watched where we were walking.

On a Mission

On a Mission

It takes a hot fire to boil down sap to syrup and also to cook in the rain.

(considered a joke about frog legs here)

(considered a joke about frog legs here)

The flow of sap slows as the season winds down but the reduction of production is not the only sign that sugaring is over for the year. In fact, it may be one of the last.

The composition of the sap changes as the season progresses and the trees get closer to their bloom time. What once roiled smoothly through the pans turns to hot foam, a bubbling, caramel-colored menace.

Frog Water

Frog Water

With so much liquid bound up as the surface of bubbles, that channel is essentially dry. There is no flow and the pan can scorch, not only making a hard-to-clean mess but also creating the conditions for a ferocious sugar fire. Thermometers don’t measure well in all that foam and though the temperature reads well below 219°F (103.8°C) the stuff bubbles furiously as it is drawn off.

A Bubbly Draw

A Bubbly Draw

When checked for specific gravity it comes up light, but it runs in thick sheets off the ladle. Everything says it is syrup except the scientific instruments used to check it so sugar-makers in springtime rely on an instrument of a different sort, known as their “gut.”

Some guts suggest shutting things down when the sap becomes hard to manage like that. Some guts point to sticking it out and using their senses to boil until there is just no point any more. Whether or not there will be any more remains to be seen but for all its wild and funky qualities over the fire, this batch of syrup turned out to be both different and delicious.

Hot

Hot

A little excitement now and then is a good thing. The march of the salamanders was fun and scrambling to cool down the pan with quick pours of sap from the Oh Sh*t! bucket kept everyone on their toes but, after a certain point, it was just another late night in a sugarhouse.

Not Impressed

Not Impressed

A good guess can be made, but there’s no real sure way to tell when sugaring is about to end. For some, it’s over when they say it’s over, when they’ve had quite enough and before things get out of hand. Others keep plugging away until the wood runs out or the pan catches fire. Either way, it’s not really us who have the final say. When the buds are swelling, the frogs are trilling and salamanders are on the move, you know the end is drawing near.

And if you can’t figure it out on your own from all that, the trees will let you know.

A Sugarbush

Maples on a Rocky Hillside

An accumulation of degree days, the angle of the sun and who knows what else, spurred the frogs and salamanders to action the other day but this is Vermont — where it is sometimes said we don’t have spring — and all I can say is that it’s pretty quiet in the swamp today.

Twenty Degrees and Nary a Peep

Twenty Degrees and Nary a Peep

Opening Day is 26 days away…

 

 

 

 

Categories: Humor, Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The First Day of April

The first shave of the season can be a traumatic event. Removing a full winter’s luxurious growth is no easy task, but sometimes my good friend Eugene‘s body hair grows through the weave of his long-johns and it’s the only way to get them off. Don’t worry, he’s fine; most of the trauma is suffered by those who have to hold him down.

Taking off the winter beard used to be a fine April Fool’s Day joke but I don’t always make it to town for anyone to see. At home, it just seems to scare the cats (and me, every time I walk by a mirror for the first day or two) but it’s become a rite of spring around here and it’s best not to mess with tradition.

I am naturally intrigued by new possibilities in drastic hair removal. Men have used clam shells, Bowie knives and multi-bladed monstrosities over the years to scrape their faces clean but the other night I came across a show featuring two handsome young men who struck me as the type to be completely hairless below the neckline. Admiring themselves in a mirror, they gave grooming tips that a man like me could certainly use.

It Took Forever and Hurt Like Hell

It Took Forever and Hurt Like Hell

I couldn’t hear everything they said about the importance of tweezing but I’d like to watch that show again because it might be possible they were talking about their eyebrows.

Fish in a Barrel Pond, April 1

Fish in a Barrel Pond, April Fool’s Day, 2016

 

Categories: Humor | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Duck Ice

Duck Ice (n): Ice that will hold a duck, but not much more.

While caretaking on an island on Lake Champlain, I heard stories about the caretaker on another island who strapped giant plywood duck feet to his shoes in order to walk on thin ice, just for fun. He was also known for “jumping chunks” to shore when his boat became mired in the pack ice each spring and he liked to drive back and forth on his ATV, stopping by with predictions of how much longer it would be “safe” to make a run to shore.

“You’ve got another six hours, easy,” he once told me, two days after I’d nearly scared myself to death making one last trip for supplies.

A Long Walk

A Long Walk

Those, of course, are geese, not ducks, making their way across the last of the ice on Fish in a Barrel Pond. Their wide feet distribute their weight somewhat, but even they run into problems from time to time. Continue reading

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Sugarhouse Saturday Night

Because the photo in the header of this post is severely cropped, the buffet table in Bobo’s sugarhouse can not be seen. The al fresco dining was featured two weeks ago in “Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch” but they’ve been boiling like mad over there ever since and it should go without saying that the buffet table is stocked with an array of items that can be eaten by hand, on the fly. Pretty much everything available is made even more delicious by a drizzling (or dunking) of warm syrup but one wonders sometimes what else could be done with all that amber, sugary goodness.

New York City found out this week when Bobo’s Mountain Sugar was featured in the menu of the Maple Run, a dinner at the James Beard House, on West 12th Street. Not only do I expect to find Maple-Brined Pork Loin with Grits, Carrots, Almonds, and Maple–Mustard Jus  followed by Waffle Baba with Maple–Bourbon Syrup, Vanilla–Bourbon Ice Cream, Brown Butter, and Maple Meringue served up on the old wire spool next year, I expect to see Hot Dogs Boiled in a Sap Pan and Virginia Peach Moonshine with Vermont Maple Cocktails on the menus of fine restaurants everywhere. Continue reading

Categories: Maple Syrup, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Maybe It’s a Vermont Thing

Sometimes it seems more than coincidence that I decide to post a photo, only to find someone else has posted a photo just like it, and so I don’t. Who needs another picture of a cattail or some tree bark or ice?

Maybe it’s a Vermont thing, marking the passing of time according to such subtleties. More than a few photographers and writers seem to hit on the same things at the same time, independently of each other, and the influence of place becomes apparent.

As proof, here’s a short list of blogs I follow because they, too, see the beauty of bare branches, find wisdom in stone walls and know where the first coltsfoot will bloom:

John Hadden Photography – We have a similar eye but he is much more punctual about posting. Of course, you have to get up pretty early to beat his East Street Weather Blog.

Leaf and Twig – Observation and Imagination Meet Nature in Poetry.

Stony Soil Vermont – A way with words I wish I had. Only a Vermonter could see past the mud to “sunlight so intensely bright it lay like shining gold coins on the shallow dips of water that spread out all around our house, as though we were a ship on a rippling sea.”

quotidiously/the spaces between – Nice images of simple things, often overlooked.

Welcome to Pairodox – Exploring the science and beauty of rural life. Farming, photos and some pretty nifty prose.

Over the last week or so, flowing water and cold night air have created some interesting opportunities with the camera and I know I’m not the only one who noticed. I hope I’m the only one who fell on his ass getting the shots.

(Click to enlarge)

An ancient stone dam

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Categories: Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch

Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch

Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch

A good run of sap has kept syrup makers busy and nice weather this weekend inspired quite a few folks to brave the mud for visits to their favorite sugar houses. From what I hear, the joint was jumpin’ on Friday and Saturday evenings at Bobo’s. By Sunday afternoon, when I got there to help finish off yet another boil, the place was pretty well deserted.

New Sap Coming In

New Sap Coming In

Even without an enthusiastic crowd looking on, the fire roared and sap turned to syrup. It wasn’t the sunniest of late winter days but the temperature was mild enough to cook outside, taking advantage of the well-apportioned outdoor grilling area. Continue reading

Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Here Comes Sugar Bob!

Here Comes Sugar Bob!

Here Comes Sugar Bob!

And there goes Sugar Bob, heading home for a long boil.

Heading Home for a Long Boil

Heading Home for a Long Boil

Sugar Bob makes maple syrup, gathering sap from stands he’s tapped all over the freakin’ place. You can hear his rig coming from a long way off, especially when he’s motoring through the mud with a load on. That sap is headed for a tank above the cabana, to be boiled down into syrup as only Sugar Bob can make it. I wouldn’t pour it on my pancakes, but Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is one of the greatest Secret Ingredients yet devised by Man.

Sugar makers don’t get to see each other much at times like this so Sugar Bob passed along his respects to the good folks at Bobo’s Mountain Sugar and I was happy to carry his message to the other side of the valley this afternoon. Continue reading

Categories: Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mud Season Started Today

There is always some uncertainty, once the leaves are off the trees, as to when, exactly, winter begins. Snow flies and cold wind blows but it’s not so bad crossing the dooryard or heading out for chores until, one day, a cuss word comes out and, gosh darn it, you just know it’s winter.

Even spring comes in fits and starts and the long-johns stay on until that fickle season regains our trust and we finally take them off (or cut them off when, as often happens with my good friend Eugene, our body hair grows through the weave over the course of the cold months). We don’t put them away for the season just yet, though; experience has taught us that they may be needed again before Memorial Day.

With Mud Season, however, there is no doubt and, in this neck of the woods, Mud Season started today.

Some people don’t believe in Mud Season, having never seen it for themselves. They wonder out loud how bad it could be and believe they could handle it, if they had to, but they don’t, and they can smile their smug smiles unchallenged.

Some believe it is real but, like trading blows with a kangaroo, aren’t sure they’d be up for it themselves and decide watching from a safe distance is probably the best option.

Some people see it for the first time and can’t believe it’s possible. Surely something can be done, if only we thought outside the box, but there is no box think outside of. The bottom has been dropping out for as long as anyone can remember, no matter what anyone has done, and Mud Season is a fact of life in rural Vermont.

If a spot gets particularly bad, a mention to the road crew will at least get some attention, but storming into the Town Office and declaring it is impossible to get around will gain you no good will, especially when your very presence disproves your point.

This morning at 10:00, when I headed out on an errand, our road was just fine. A few wet spots, maybe, but overall still frozen with a good sprinkling of sand. By noon it was a different story and the plot thickened as the day progressed.

Mud Season  is real and complaining will get you nowhere. It won’t even make you feel better. A good slog through Mud Season will send some people packing while others might hang on for another season or two, whining all the way. Everyone else will smarten up and adjust their lives, gaining a little something in the process as they learn to accept yet another thing they cannot change.

The first day of Mud Season, 2016, in slide-show form:

 

 

Categories: nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Made in Vermont Hybrid Vehicle

A Hybrid of What, We Don't Know, But It's Got a Load On.

A Hybrid of What, We Don’t Know, But It’s Got a Load On.

Part Chevy, part who knows what, that’s a custom rig right there, sitting on my ice-coated driveway toward the end of a winter that made me wonder why I bothered with marker stakes. There may well be pieces of more than two vehicles involved, pieced together with ingenuity, baling wire and spot welds, and when it’s not wearing a plow on its nose it’s perfect for hauling and spreading sand (or, in this case, 1/4″ chipped stone). It has also been spotted in the village, in front of the pre-school, dropping off kiddos.

The weather has been a bit of a hybrid, itself, these last few weeks. Booger-freezing cold one day, rainy and almost warm the next, there have been pieces of at least two seasons involved and their bastard child is ice.

Coated

Coated

Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flashback Friday Flashback: Hemingway the Poet

When a post appeared on The Literary Fly Fisher a few weeks ago, announcing the University of Idaho’s 7th Annual Hemingway Festival, I went digging for a copy of “Big Two-Hearted River” because it is such a good fishing story about more than fishing. Then I dug up a copy of “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” because that shot from the 6.5 Mannlicher still buckles my knees.

Thank you to The Literary Fly Fisher for the reminder that an evening spent reading Ernest Hemingway ain’t such a bad thing.

We have honored Ernest Hemingway once before on these pages with Flashback Friday: Great Moments in Literary History, which involved a small trout. Today, as a tribute to those about to gather at the Best Western Inn in Moscow, Idaho, we honor him again by sharing a recent find.

Pirated Edition!

Pirated Edition!

Continue reading

Categories: Flashback Fridays | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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