Tag Archives: Spring

In The Wonder Woods

This post is a follow-on to “Walk With Me” (10-27-17), wherein we walked our trails from the Great Lawn, and eastwards up to the top of Nishan Hill.

Across the top of the hill on our walk, we arrive at the great forest we call The Wonder Woods.

“Seek not after answers, but after the joy of wonder.” – Chuy The Wonderdog

Breakfast Company

We find so many fascinating and curious things herein, hence the name. It is a breathtaking and beautiful place to dwell and linger, wander and wonder, in all seasons.

It’s a marvelous place to be in Spring, as the days grow longer, the snows recede and vanish. Spring Robins will roost in the pines at sunset. By the hundreds they’ll noisily gather in the grove, settling for their evening’s rest on their migration northward. The earliest tell-tale signs can be found of new growth, the thawing of our world, and nesting season.

Throughout the long summer, the woods grow thicker with vegetation and undergrowth. Squirrels rule the day, and they will begin barking at you as you walk through their domain. Summer bird visitors are seen now. Woodpeckers love the aged wood. From time to time we’ll see the huge Pileated Woodpecker, looking like Woody himself. An indigo bunting is an eye-catching sight, and after the Goldfinches come their near-lookalike, the Common Yellowthroat. Catbirds will follow us on our walk, albeit at a safe distance, and the Cedar Waxwings will work at gleaning the wintered-over seeds of the Sumacs.

Turkeys scratch and dig in the forest floor for grubs and worms. They walk the same heavily-trod path followed by deer, coyotes and even the occasional black bear. To some, the wood may look untrammeled, but those with a keen eye, the trail can be seen. A few kicked-up leaves here, a snapped twig there. It’s easier to see if you get down to coyote level. 

Of course our wood is beautiful year-round, but few seasons are as striking as autumn. Granted, the landscape is dramatic and captivating in the snow, and we find as much to see therein. There’s no competing with fall color, and the activities that accompany the season. Deer will begin scraping the velvet off of their antlers in August. Squirrels and Chipmunks are running marathons to gather and store food for the coming winter. Deer are consuming everything they can while it’s available, before being trapped in their winter yards. Overhead, Canada Geese wave long goodbyes, and mile-long flocks of Starlings will transit the drumlins of Engleville.

Winter is a wonder unto itself. The landscape seems almost alien. Frozen and packed with snow, it is far from devoid of life and activity. Winter is the most visceral season, with winds whipping up snow devils and piling drifts. Like the sand of a beach, the surface tracks activity among forest friends. Big turkey footprints, tiny mouse footprints, trails leading every which way, some burrowing beneath the snow. It’s a season of light, even though the days are shorter. With the canopy devoid of leaves and clear frigid air, light finds all corners of the woods.

In all seasons and the seasons-between-seasons, the Wonder Woods is my ever-present friend and guardian. There is never a trip into the forest that does not bear some gift for you.

Look us up if you’re out our way, and we’d be glad to take you along.

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

March Journal

Sugaring Season

Sugaring Season

March is all about sugaring, the collection of sap from sugar maples, and the boiling down of the same, to produce that sweet prize of nature, pure maple syrup.

Over the hill, past Leesville, the Everett family augments their dairy operations with maple product production at Stone House Farm. They built a sap house, sometimes called a sugar shack, across the road from the house, and filled it not only with a huge evaporator for making syrup, but also a kitchen and dining area for serving pancakes during sugaring season.

Daughter Kerry and her beau Kenyon joined me, my wife, and grandkids Madison, Elizabeth and Max for a great pancake & waffle breakfast in the sap house. A classmate of son Ryan, (Madison’s dad), Amy Everett, served our table. All you can eat!

We left the sap house full and inspired.

“Can we try tapping your trees?” asked ever-industrious Max. It’s not hard to guess what my answer was! Back at the Engleville homestead, Max and I set forth with a bit & brace, a few pieces of copper pipe, and a mish-mash of whatever containers we could find.

We bored some holes in the big Sugar Maples that line the road frontage, five trees total, studded with seven taps. We proceeded to hang a couple plastic pails, an iced tea jug, and a soda bottle, among others, below the copper pipes, and eagerly awaited the outcome.

 

We impatiently awaited the sap. Max checked the taps every couple of hours. We dipped our fingers into the sap in the pail. You could taste the sugar and the mild maple flavor. (Maple sap contains about 2% maple sugar, the balance is clear water.)

By 3 o’clock there was a half-gallon of maple sap collected, and Max was eager to move forward through the process. We put the kettle on the stove and boiled the sap down, and in fact didn’t finish before Max had to go home. He took the sap and finished it off at home, made enough for him and his dad Matt to have a yummy breakfast treat!

Well, the taps were in and the sap was flowing, so for the next week I walked the sap line each day and collected the sap. Put a kettle on the stove a couple of times to boil down a batch. (And fall asleep in the chair completely burning one batch!!)

Fast-flowing Sap

Fast-flowing Sap

Over Capacity!

Over Capacity!

Stovetop method

Stovetop method

The following weekend, Max returned for sugaring operations, and we borrowed Ryan’s giant outdoor gas burner (which he bought for his own sugaring last year). We had about sixty gallons of sap to boil, and it took all day, and well into the night!

We put up some tarps for a wind break, and set up the burner in the Cabana at the Engleville Tick Ranch. (Some folks call it the wood shed. I like the sound of cabana.) We boiled off the sweet syrup until after 9:30, finishing barely in time to catch Svengoolie at 10 on MeTV.

We had a great time in the Sugar Shack, and the sap is still flowing. We bottled our wares in Mason jars as Max tried to figure out how to sell syrup on Ebay. We all caught maple fever, and in just a week we had purchased real sap buckets and started making plans for next year.

Max’s dad Matt wants to get an evaporator, and we’re keen on asking Mr. Nishan if we can tap the maples in his woods. Plans abound for next year. All told, we’ve made about a gallon and a half of mostly-pure maple syrup (it has some sediment in the bottom). It was an interesting and informative venture, seeing how much sap is produced by a tree, the length of time it takes to reduce it to syrup, and the curious way the syrup gets darker and stronger as the season wears on.

Late Night, Sugar Shack

Late Night, Sugar Shack

Yummy Production!

Yummy Production!

Max plans to become a maple syrup tycoon, and has built his own web site for Max’s Sugar Shack. Ah, the sweet smell of success!

It sure smells like maple.

Max's Sugar Shack

Max’s Sugar Shack

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Paz