Quill Gordon Does a Tap Dance

I awoke this morning to two terrible realizations. First, it was nearly half-past six, meaning I’d slept in like a slug. Second, it was Monday, and the return of Flashback Friday had faltered after only two weeks, despite my good intentions.


Yeah, yeah, I know. I can just feel the disappointment, but it’s not like you just found a leak in your waders or something. Besides, proper flashbacks should be unexpected, out of the blue, and a complete surprise to all involved.

My most recent post featured some mighty rugged poop and, while not a flashback, certainly was unexpected, out of the blue, and a complete surprise to all involved. The books could use some balancing after that, starting with this post, beginning with a nice photo of a stream:


Living in Vermont, fisher scat is as much a part of late winter as maple syrup, and I hope that if anything can make up for posting the scariest poop ever, maple syrup will. I like maple syrup so much that I have jumped at the chance to help some friends through the process.

This is a sugar bush:


It’s actually part of a 40-acre sugar bush (a stand of woods that is managed to exploit maples for their sap) owned by a friend, on a steep hill not far from my home. A new sugar house sits at the base of that hill but before any sap can be boiled, there is the issue of getting the sap from the trees to the tanks.

Polycarbonate taps and polymer tubes have replaced old-fashioned buckets, at least for those looking to make a living cooking sap, allowing larger harvests and including trees that no one would want to carry buckets to and from.

Special bits drill surgical holes:


Polycarbonate taps are gently hammered into place:


And a tube of extruded polymer is attached to the tap:


Each tree gets a “drop line” which connects to another tube called a “lateral” and each lateral connects to a “main line” which flows to the sugar house. I’ve not counted the number of main lines, but each main can have 40 or more laterals and each lateral can be fed by a dozen or more trees. The goal before the sap flows is to install 2500 taps.

Did I mention the way a system of lines and tubes allows trees to be tapped that no one would have tapped the old-fashioned way?


It’s a steep slog in places, kicking steps in the ice as I go, bracing and drilling and tapping up and down the hill but if I ever needed an excuse to spend an afternoon in the woods this is one of the best I’ve come across. It is also tiring enough to be a fine excuse for sleeping in past six.




Opening Day at Fish in a Barrel Pond is nine weeks away and there is plenty of work ahead as I get ready for six straight months up to my elbows in anglers. In the meantime, winter loosens its grip and I have a new favorite sound in the woods; the sporadic tap-tap-tap of human woodpeckers in a working sugar bush.

Mud season and black flies are just around the corner, followed by springtime and fishing, and there will be plenty of those things in these pages to come, but for now its a race against time to get the trees tapped for the first run of sap and then get that sap boiled down. Sugaring season might last two or three weeks or it might last 10 days, there’s no way to know, but we’re going to see it through to the end, from tap to jug. As long as my legs and battery supply hold out, you’re coming along for the ride.

It is maple sugaring time in Vermont.

Categories: Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “Quill Gordon Does a Tap Dance

  1. Do the maple trees know they’re being exploited?

    I saw this whole setup on a show a year or two ago. Pretty impressive. It’s got to drive the deer crazy though and I’m surprised the racoons don’t chew through them all just out of spite.

    • As long as the trees don’t organize I think we’re okay.

      It’s a very impressive setup. There’s a lot of study and knowledge involved in sugar bush management. Probably involves a bit of wildlife management, too. The deer are still in the evergreens and this hill is probably too steep to interest them but there are porcupines and turkeys all over the place. I also suspect a bear den or two …

  2. I came across a derelict sugaring operation up in the Adirondacks a few years ago while looking for grouse. A couple of miles of plastic tubing littered the landscape and lashed at my ankles. What a pain in the ass. Though I do appreciate the fruits of the labor. Just one of those concessions to progress I suppose. Only found one grouse that day. He lived.

  3. Littering the woods should not be a concession to progress. Sounds like a hit and run operation to me. Maple syrup is like gold and I have a story to share in an upcoming post about international syrup smugglers and foreign cartels that is just mind-boggling.

    Even when I carried a gun most of the grouse I found survived.

  4. I’m simply amazed that even though I’m in my declining years I had no idea. I always thought that syrup came from grocery stores. I guess I never thought past that. Here in Colorado we tap marijuana plants…

    • We might get to the part about the really long tube from the sugar house to Safeway. We’ll definitely get to the part about syrup made from corn at some point. Wouldn’t pot tappers tend to get the munchies and eat all the product on pancakes?

  5. When I was in elementary school, in maple syrup time my dad took us after school to Raker’s Sugarbush, an operation that has been in business in the same family in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, since 1837. They’re still making it there. Anyway we hauled the buckets and dumped them into a trailer / tank made from a 275-gallon oil tank, pulled through woods roads by a tractor. They’ve been using the high-tech stuff for years. I still buy all my maple syrup from them, and you reminded me to e-mail my sister to put my order in. In fact Raker’s tap the sugarbush on my sister’s adjacent property as well. Great story Quill, thanks for sharing it and reminding me of the good ‘ol days!

    • There are still a few people up here emptying buckets into tanks where the trees are scattered or near a road. No matter how the sap is collected, it’s a very time-consuming process for sure.

      I’m glad this reminded you to order your syrup. Get it early; no telling how much there will be!

      If you like the good old days, just wait until you see the arch and evaporator set up running …

  6. hookandhackle

    With all that 400 year old Yankee ingenuity here in New England you would think that instead of boiling the sap one might have figured out how to ferment it into maple syrup paint thinner.

    In order to save a few pennies my wife insists on buying the cheap stuff. Honestly, I truly despise artificially maple flavored corn syrup.There are a few independents still sugaring but most of the big sugaring operations are out of business down here. The trees just aren’t producing the sap they once did. In my not so humble opinion, corn should only be used on the cob or in the finest of paint thinners and should not be used to make artificially flavored anything.

    • Flavored corn syrup is sweet and tasty but it’s still made from corn. When someone says they don’t like maple syrup because it tastes like trees, I tell them that’s kind of the point. It will be interesting over the next few years to see what happens as good maple stands die out and production moves further and further north.

      Who says (hic!) there ain’t fermented or (hic!) distilled maple beverages?

  7. It’s actually ( I think ) pretty rare that someone literally “LOLZ” these days, but the words ” As long as the trees don’t organize” made me LOL. 🙂

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