Fire Burn and Cauldron bubble

This time of year sees me from dawn until dusk out by our woodshed near our dirt road, stoking the big fire underneath our maple syrup evaporator. The hotter the fire the better as it heats the big stainless steel pan of collected sap. If I am attentive, I can add wood every twenty minutes or so to keep the fire really hopping and the sap boiling hard. A container on the back of the pan warms the sap before it drips into the boiling pan below. Early season sap stays light in color as it boils down but late season sap is a rich brown . This is because the early season sap with its higher sugar content needs less boiling to become syrup. The average is forty gallons of sap makes a gallon of syrup but the ratio is less in the early season. But you know what? The late season sap has a lot more flavor and depth. There’s a message in that.

After a long winter and too much time inside, I find it exhilarating to boil maple sap all day and into the night. I also love the collecting runs when we empty sap buckets from the hedgerow of maples across the road from the farm into our big tank on the back of the farm truck. Once again I am outside with a glorious purpose!

Here are a couple images of previous sugaring seasons- the tapping, the trudging through the snow, the collecting and the sap itself. We no longer have access to these trees with that amazing view, but we have some wonderful maples across the road from the farm.

The sap runs when the nights are below freezing and the days warm enough for the sap to rise up into the trees before returning down again when the temperature drops. Cold winds, bright sun, snow cover also affect when the sap is running. It’s on these up and down journeys that the sap drips into our buckets. If it stays cold the sap stays in the ground. If it stays above freezing the sap stays up in the trees. We never know which days the sap is going to really run. On what seems like the perfect day, the buckets may be almost empty. Then for reasons unknown, another day they will be full of sap in a matter of hours. I like this reminder of nature’s own intelligence.

We always under tap the trees, putting no more than two buckets on any tree no matter how old or big the maple is. Our own property is a cautionary tale about overtapping as the previous owner allowed a man in town to overtap our maple trees until they all died. When we first moved to town and before we knew we would live on this land, I was shocked to see this man crowd up to ten buckets on maple trees all over town. By the time we moved here, the maple trees that lined the road and our property were dying or dead from his overtapping. It still makes me upset to think about what this man did to so many beautiful old maple trees.

When I tap, I ask each tree for permission to tap it, then I ask where the tap should be put. A couple years ago a neighbor who is a vascular surgeon helped us tap. He picked great spots to tap. I guess he had a good sense of the flow of sap as well as blood. Jim has a drill bit just the right size for our spiles. That’s the name of the spouts that fit in the hole in the tree and from which a sap bucket hangs. You know me. Everything I do with the trees involves hugging the trees and thanking them profusely for sharing their sap with us.

Each maple sugaring season is peculiar in its own way. Sometimes the sap runs early in February then stops completely during typically bitter cold March weather only to come on gangbusters in April. This year the sap ran very early in January in a couple of unexpected runs. We missed these runs because we’ve always tapped our tree during the February school vacation. Once we got the trees tapped and buckets hung, the sap ran for about two weeks in the end of February and beginning of March then stopped. All the indications were there that our season would be brief. End of season signs like red wing blackbirds and crocus in bloom arrived very early in mid-March. Now we are having a stint of perfect sugaring weather, but the sap has gone up into the trees for good, and each day our buckets are empty.

As I boil away, the witches in Macbeth come to mind with their famous “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” I think often about how older women are viewed and treated in the modern world as well as in Shakespeare. Bland, boring, invisible, ugly as hags, and useless. It’s ridiculous. In fact, it’s tragic that women who hold such hard earned wisdom from a lifetime of experiences are ignored as worthless because of the natural course of aging.

I’m reading a book called Hagitude by Sharon Blackie about embracing the enormous gifts of post menopausal womanhood and empowering ourselves to acknowledge our value. Keeping this raging fire going outside at the maple sugaring evaporator echoes the raging fire within me as I read this book and consider the way vital, wise, sparkling women are dismissed by our culture.

Maybe it was the long winter of pop ups on my computer, but I’m feeling fiery about being reduced in the culture’s eye to a potential consumer of every pharmaceutical on earth and Depends diapers. Is this really what knitting while watching knitting podcasts earns me? Even before the sugaring season, I noticed that the main emoji I was using in texts to friends was the fire emoji. Yes, finding my Hagitude has required and will continue to require fire and FIRE EMOJIS! That and some howling to the moon.


My maple sugaring set up is near our dirt road. The shift in weather that affected the sugaring also gave our road a mud season the likes of which I haven’t seen in many years. Multiple ruts wove up our very steep hill, many several feet deep. This made it impossible to safely navigate the road in any kind of vehicle. For several days, cars could neither go up or down our hill without getting stuck, yet people kept trying anyways.

I would watch from my cauldron of fire as people reeved their engines for long periods of time, pushing deeper and deeper into the mud in an effort to go up or down the road. Before my eyes, cars and trucks slid off the road or became so mired in mud that being pushed back down the hill became a necessity.

Here at the farm, we went down the hill once then parked at the bottom for a couple of days until the town could come through and bring needed gravel and the grader. The wise staff also parked at the bottom and walked up each day. The only other person in the neighborhood who did this was another woman with Hagitude like me. Other neighbors drove by me so fast there was no time to even wave, heading right into the disaster of mud. Sometimes being a hag with Hagitude is exhilarating. I relish boiling my big cauldrons of sap. Sometimes it’s hard. Had anyone bothered to rolled down their window and ask me about the hill, I would have had some wisdom to share. But even with my raging and smoking fire only a few yards from the road, I was invisible to them. Even with my knowledge of the hill after four decades on this road, I was invisible to them. Perhaps I will remain invisible no matter the fire I stoke or the wisdom I have, but I am going to keep stoking the fires of Hagitude and I expect I will enjoy it no matter what.