Happy People: Life on the Taiga (an update from the heart of sappin' season)

It's tedious to talk endlessly about the weather, but such tedium is actually relevant to sugarmakers.  So I'm going to just warn you now: this blog entry is basically a detailed weather report.  The past week (also known as my "spring break") started with a trip to Maine Guide Snowshoes, outside of Bingham, to pick up a new pair of handmade-by-veterans, old-fashioned wooden snowshoes for VJ, whose last pair finally bit the dust after three years running.   As a snowshoe design expert after years of trying the more gear-y variety available at outdoor equipment stores, VJ recommends Maine Guide, which are nice and sturdy and which float beautifully in snow. (For the love of God, don't buy MSR snowshoes.  We've gone through two pairs in two months!)  Even so, the owner of Maine Guide, when I stopped by to pick up VJ's replacements, told me that she'd never seen such a worn-out pair.  

Running this wintry errand turned out to be a apt way to start the week: I was met by snow, rain, snow, rain, and more snow out on the frontier, despite the warmer weather I left further downriver.  Also apt was viewing  "Happy People," Werner Herzog's documentary about trappers on the Siberian Taiga, which Colin, VJ and I watched on a laptop in the sugarcamp trailer one night.  It was easy to draw some parallels.  "Spring comes late to the Taiga" - the first words spoken in the film, over images of sand-dune-sized snow banks in a remote village.   Yes.  Yes it does.  This became our refrain as we woke each morning to a perpetual late-April Narnia.  Other parallels: inconvenient fallen trees (including two that blocked the driveway after a windstorm on Tuesday night), gathering drinking water by snow-melt, and bearded men hiking around a vast wilderness in wool coats. Some differences: we are not sable hunters, we do not fashion our own skis out of spruce logs, and we do not, as yet, feed large quantities of fish to our dogs.  

Obviously, it's been a slow sugaring season this year, with a decidedly late start and a very gradual thaw.  The sap's been coming in off and on - not exactly gang-busters, but enough that we've been averaging a barrel a day and keeping up with woods-work while it trickles in. Phew.  (When it freezes at night, which it has been, the cold extends the season, prolonging the time it takes for trees to produce buds.)  On Thursday and Friday things got so cold that sap froze in one of the lines up the hill, causing some hiccoughs in our vacuum system.  Then, on Saturday, after a 3-inch accumulating overnight snowfall, things kicked into high gear and suddenly we were swimming in sap. I spent Saturday afternoon monitoring the RO machine while VJ and Colin worked in the woods.  On a concrete slab with no heat source, 40 degree weather feels cold, if not exactly Siberian. (Thanks to a military-style bivouac sac that our friend Randy Visser bequeathed to VJ, he's managed to stay warm sleeping by the machines so that he can periodically open an eye and check on things.)  

Here's the irrefutable evidence that spring is here after all: I left Sandy Bay Township yesterday on a high note - a double-barrel day.  Both barrels (#14 and #15 of the season) contain some pretty lovely syrup - light and delicate like the snowflakes that preceded it.  Fingers crossed that the snow takes it's merry time melting into mud and the sap keeps coming in gang-busters.

 VJ's first pair of Maine Guide snowshoes - perfect for the Taiga.

VJ's first pair of Maine Guide snowshoes - perfect for the Taiga.

 An icy selfie taken in the stainless steel reflection of the Reverse Osmosis machine.  

An icy selfie taken in the stainless steel reflection of the Reverse Osmosis machine.  

 Drawing syrup off the evaporator before filtering it.

Drawing syrup off the evaporator before filtering it.