Mud Season Tuesday … Ya Never Know

Welcome to Mud Season. People get ugly just after town meeting. You still haven’t lost the weight from the holiday. You still can’t get out to exercise. The town report came out and listed YOU in the delinquent tax payer column. And the road between your house and the paved road has turned slimy and sadistic.

The snow starts melting, and it’s pretty ugly, too. As the snow melts the dogshit rises. It’s a miracle!. Who knew there were so many colors of dog food? It’s as colorful as the foliage! And you are lying to yourself.

It's Maple Sugaring Season Again | Mountain Top Inn & Resort

To amuse themselves people do frivolous things like bet on when the ice will go out at Joe’s Pond. In my household it means betting when the last patch of snow melts in the backyard. Every year it comes right down to the wire, and every year requires some third-party intervention and marriage counseling, because SOMEONE THINKS IT’S MORE IMPORTANT TO WIN THAN TO PLAY FAIR!

It’s a desperate time. You’re so desperate to reconnect with the earth that you plant peas, knowing the seeds will rot in the wet muck. You go on the last day of the downhill skiing season, convinced that you will be the one to make it across that little pond. And you don’t. You go fishing on opening day convinced you will find a stretch of water not covered by ice. And you don’t. In a perverted way, it’s hilarious.

Small consolation that it’s Spring in the rest of the world!

Grudgingly, the season evolves through Earth Day and Green-up Day. The snow has finally melted so you can see the trash. Then there’s a robin, and then a crocus, and then a tuft of green, and finally a bluebird. You don’t want to take off the snow tires yet, because you know what that means. Oh hell, you might as well leave them on all summer.

The Ol’ Vermontah Goes a’ Sugarin’

By Stephen Morris

Look at me, sugarin’.

After more than a quarter century and half my life in Vermont, I am, at last participating in this annual rite of spring. The best part—no, it’s not the syrup, the best part—no it’s not the easy camaraderie of the steamy sugar house, the best part is that people will now have to ask me how the sugaring season is going, rather than the other way around. Now I will be able to stroke my chin thoughtfully before answering in my highly practiced, laconic, Vermontah way:

“Ya never know.”

This is a one-size fits all answer to life’s eternal questions. Why does the sap sometimes flow at night, other times not? Why does it flow sometimes in the rain, sometimes not? What does the moisture in the ground have to do with the color of the syrup? Why do some seasons last a week and others a month?

“Ya never know,” “ya never know,” and “ya never know.”

May be an image of outdoors
Backyard boiling “arch.” (photo courtesy of Sam Mink)

If you say it just right, people think you are the wisest man in the world.

As I set out for the first day of sugarin’ season, like with so many other Vermonters, my mind is on China. The sun is bright, and the wind is gusting. I put on my Sorels, bought on sale at Lenny’s, Vermont’s Mecca of warmth. I remember my first pair of Sorels when I first came to Vermont, bought at the Snowsville General Store. “Made with Pride in Canada” they said. If there is anything that Canadians should be better at than anyone else in the world, it should be keeping feet warm and dry in the winter.

And these were pretty dang good boots, too, unless you let mice build homes in them over the summer, which I did. But the good thing about the Sorels of yore was the changeable lining. The bad thing is that it became impossible to find replacements. Instead I went with those injection molded foam moon boots that were absolutely terrific for the first half of the first season, but then they would rip. By the end of the year they were more duct tape than boot. For the last five years I’ve just worn old sneakers in the snow, like a teenager.

I forgot about Sorels until I saw them in Lenny’s. These new Sorels are made in China. At $49 they cost less than my originals, and I think they are better—lighter, warmer, with better adjustments. So I’m better off, the Chinese people are better off. I do worry, however, about the Canadians who lost their boot-making jobs. Have they found new positions as software engineers and video game designers, or are they slumped in front of the TV, watching “Days of our Lives”?

I put on my Sorels, then my Tubbs snowshoes. Here we go again—made in China rather than Vermont. Made out of tubes and synthetic as opposed to wood and rawhide, and upsetting the balance of payments even more.

My sugarin’ companion is Kent Batcheller (“Batch” to his friends) who owns a handsome piece of property along the Third Branch of the White River in Bethel. I pepper him with questions. How did the Abenaki boil sap without metal pots? What’s the impact of acid rain on the maples? Has global warming affected the sugaring season? Kent considers each question thoughtfully, then answers:

“Ya never know.”

We set out with a canvas bag full of drills, hammers, spigots and sugarin’ paraphernalia. Kent knows I’m a rookie, so he demonstrates everything, before letting me try it myself. First he demonstrates how to get a drill bit stuck in a tree. Next, he shows me how to tap an ash tree. Then, when I’ve got that down, he shows me how to tap into a maple that’s been dead for ten years. It’s not rocket science. I think I’m what sugarmakers call a “natural.”

Vermont Maple Syrup Leaf – Plimoth Patuxet Museum Shop

When I’ve mastered the basics, Kent shows me how to fall “ass-over-teakettle.” Maples grow on hillsides. If the snow is deep enough you can manage on these steep slopes fairly well. As the snow level decreases to an icy skimcoat over the frozen ground, however, the footing becomes impossible, even with Sorels and snowshoes. Kent shows me how to send all the tools flying when his footing gives way and the appropriate swear words to use as you are sitting there on your wet butt. He’s a master.

We get all the lines cleared and the buckets mounted in a few days. Then it’s just a matter of listening to the sap drip—thunk, thunk, thunk—and boiling it up in the arch. Oh, there’s some cleaning and other stuff, but I don’t want to get too technical for the consuming public. One good thing about sugarin’ is that you don’t have to be overly concerned about being sanitary. Everything gets boiled to bejesus, which kills everything, then you run the finished syrup through a filter which removes any remaining bug bodies.

Collecting the sap is relatively easy. The only trick is that instead of letting the tools go flying when you fall ass-over-teakettle, you let the plastic gathering bucket go flying. Kent tells me that some fellows use a different set of swear words for this, but he sticks with the same ones.

When sufficient sap is gathered the boiling begins. What is critical here is not the temperature or time, but rather the topics of conversation and the food. Traditionally, cider doughnuts and dill pickles are served. When I say “traditionally” what I really mean is “any sugarhouse open to tourists.” Any real Vermonter knows that the fare of choice for real sugarmakers is beer, and it don’t make no difference what kind.

Maple syrup | Britannica

The conversation, however, is critical. Within the dark, steamy, womb of the sugarhouse rugged Vermonters exchange their innermost feelings. Words flow like sap—thunk, thunk, thunk—as we exchange thoughts on boots, the Chinese, acid rain, the Red Sox, and, most of all, the infinite mysteries of sugarin.’ The thoughts boil to the surface on the open vats of our lives. And if you run out of thoughts, just shake your head slowly and say “Ya never know.”


You’ve seen this one before. It’s the Wright’s sugar house at the very end of Gilead Brook Road.

5 thoughts on “Mud Season Tuesday … Ya Never Know

  1. Love this post! Sugaring has ended here in the neighborhood. Our neighbor, Matt, delivered two lovely containers of liquid gold on Saturday, the first boil was light, the second dark. Our trees contributed several lovely full buckets to the boil. Funny watching him boil the sap in one section of his yard while making beer in his garage. Can’t wait to try that too!

    Thank you for adding to the sunny spring feeling that confirms our winter to be over. However, “ya never know.”

    Marti

    Sent from my iPad

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  2. Hi Step & Sandy, How goes the Great White North? We couldn’t believe our eyes, The Parsonage is now even sweeter? It’s own SYRUP! Yes, Yes, Yes, we will gladly purchase your Devine offerings. We offer to be the first to help you wage the “Great Gilead Brook Sugar War!” I can almost taste it now! SWEET! Sorry to hear that “Mud Season” is rearing it’s ugly murkiness at the same time. We’re gonna need pictures whenever possible. Kinda like the old garage photo of Microsoft’s beginning. They will be worth MUCHO bucks in the future.

    ALERT We are going to have to scrap our plans to head North and visit Youse guys. Unfortunately, all of our plans (7-31 to 8-7) did not line up others dates and times. So instead, we’re renting a cottage in Dennisport for that week. 100 ft from the beach.

    We do however want at least one Saturday night to visit with you both and experience VT in its best season. (In our humble opinion) We will be in touch as to when we can come, along with when you have availability. Sorry for the change. Our guess is that April 24th will be the last sighting of snow 😎👍 Ya never know. What’s the prize? A Mud-surfing board? I got my 2nd shot of Moderna yesterday.Me, PJ, Dee & Eddie V. All got 2nd shots PJ informed me that Dee is suffering a severe headache, chills and all over feels shitty. The rest of us are suffering sore arms nothing else. Hope you get yours soon. Lovin’ this weeks columns. Pure VT. Stay safe, Be good, Steve & Bethy Hugs to Sandy😎

    Sent from my iPad

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    1. Dennisport? We’ll come visit you. Just kidding. May can be nice in Vermont. (Spoiler alert: it can also be nasty.)

      SB SM

      On Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 3:38 PM The Silverback Digest wrote:

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  3. Loved the sugarin video at Wright Farm. Special knowing my folks baby sat tge Wright boys next door. My first run gallon is on their porch and as soon as the mud dries up a touch I’ll fetch it! I live the fact he sugars the old fashion way with wood and no newfangled “osymosis “. stuff

    Dave Kent 2021

    1. Your folks babysat the Wright boys and Rick Wright babysat Sandy’s kids. The circle is completed.

      SB SM

      On Wed, Mar 31, 2021 at 9:04 PM The Silverback Digest wrote:

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