Tapping Out

(A new tab at the top of this page (or this link) will take you to a collection of photos and links following the production of maple syrup this spring from the sugar bush of some friends. Their new enterprise is called Bobo’s Mountain Sugar, and the taps are in on Bobo’s Mountain — all 2500 of them.)

In mixed martial arts, tapping out is an act of submission, the end of a fight, and often the result of a violent twisting of arms. In maple syrup production, tapping out is a declaration of victory, the end of a job that no one’s arm had to be twisted to do.

big old tree

The snow was deep when I started helping on the hill above the sugar house, but I waded and floundered and stomped my way along the lines, tapping trees for a few hours each afternoon, doing what I could. The steepness of the hill, combined with thickets of beech and short balsams, had me convinced I made the right call in leaving my snowshoes at home, even as more flakes fell every day. After struggling in the wake of an additional 14+” from one storm, I finally gave in and strapped them on the next day.

If, as they say, snowshoes make the impossible difficult, it was a very hard afternoon. Without my snowshoes I had sunk to my knees; with them I still sank to my knees and had to high-step to clear the holes I’d made, with the decks weighted down with snow. Lifting a leg, expecting 25 pounds of resistance but getting none because the snow slid off, resulted in a few sharp blows to my chin and twice I kneed myself in the ear when my right foot sank deeper as I lifted my left.

march2 hill

Onward I staggered, drilling holes, inserting taps and connecting lines. Up the hill to the end of one line, across the hill to the next, and down again, I slipped off hidden rocks and tripped over the tops of small trees. Once, I fell, backwards, but the pull of gravity was no match for the boulder I managed to grab with my butt, and I did not slide down the slope. Kicking and thrashing, with a backstroke I dug myself deeper, eventually getting my feet so far above my head that a well-executed somersault was all that was needed to right myself. My somersaults, however, score much better on style points than execution and after another 10 minutes I was back on my feet, in the middle of a wide crater, breathing the tangy scent of mangled young hemlocks.

Plunging ahead, I used my not inconsiderable size to my advantage and plowed my way down the run to the last tree on the line. Watching the first drops of sap drip into the tube I’d just connected, I took a step back to admire my work, but just for a second, because the tail of my right snowshoe dug in and I spun around, sticking my left snowshoe between two small beeches, throwing myself into one of the niftiest figure-4 leg-locks ever, from which I admired the sky.


My left hand was behind my right ear and I lay on my right elbow. Twisting in an effort to extract myself, I slipped back against the tree I’d just tapped, completing the arm-bar that brought my day to an end and I tapped out. Outmatched by gravity and deep snow, I gave up and made my way down to the sugar house, mostly by flopping along on my belly like a walrus.

As with so many other activities, I suspect there is an “extreme” version of tree tapping where the participants are the right size for the job (small and light), wear brightly colored spandex and streamlined helmets as they zip from tree to tree, skimming over the snow on tiny snowshoes, barely making a dent as they go.  Somehow that amuses me just as much as a gigantic wad of flannel and wet wool flopping across a side hill.

Tina Tapping

Smaller, more nimble tappers finished what I could not, so all the taps are in on Bobo’s Mountain and now we wait. More snow is falling as this is written but by the weekend there should be sun and mild temperatures to trigger the first strong runs of sap and the boiling can begin.

Bobo's Mountain Sugar

Categories: +Uncategorized, Maple Syrup, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Tapping Out

  1. I will pause in reflection now every time I open a bottle of syrup.

    • Thank you for taking this as seriously as it is intended, Howard! I know I’m not going to pause very long before downing my first glass of syrup tomorrow when the first boil is done …

  2. Hope the sap runs soon for you! It is running today at 43 degrees.

    • We just had a couple more chilly days and more snow, but today (Saturday, 3/9) looks to be sunny with a high in the 40s so the first real run should come off today, with the first boil tomorrow morning to make room for more.

      Do folks in Maine celebrate the first syrup with dill pickles and donuts like Vermonters?

  3. Faulkner32

    I will remember your post the next time I use maple syrup, although I may just flashback to that somersault image…

    • Well, it’s a better image than some I’ve presented in these pages and just one more reason maple syrup should bring a smile to your face!

  4. BuggyD

    Say Quill, aren’t you glad you put up tubing instead of sap buckets? I have a mental image of you going up on that hill to empty the buckets on a good run day and the image is pretty entertaining. Me? I think I’ll just set on the couch and admire the painting over the mantel of sap buckets on an old sugar maple on a blue sky day like today 🙂 And maybe toast you with some pancakes slathered in VT maple syrup tomorrow morning.

    • Fine. Sit on the couch and entertain yourselves with images of me working, but it was worth it. I brought home a jar from the first boil last night and it is so good it’s almost gone already because I’ve been drinking it straight.

  5. Idaho Steel

    ‘Round these parts, most folks only endure those sorts of indignities on snowshoes for the potential catharsis of killing something at some point in the day. Dunno, syrup doesn’t quite seem the same.

    Nevertheless, your tribulation has not passed unnoticed or unnapreciated, and we shall think of you every time the french toast hits the pan.

    • I endure many indignities on snowshoes for lots of reasons but now that we’ve done a boil I can say it was absolutely worth it. Maybe we can replace the nostalgic image of sap buckets and horse-drawn sledges on the labels to the image of a big hairy guy tumbling down a hill.

  6. Idaho Steel

    Actually, the image of a big hairy guy tumbling down a hill seems quite fitting and appropriate for a bottle of Vermont maple mead…

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