We’re well into the first full week of spring and snow still covers our yard. It’s almost time to plant peas, and my garden is a slushy mess. The fact that Vermont’s gardening season commenced at least a week or three behind the calendars in every gardening book (even one or two written by Vermonters) once caused me consternation. By March, I’m ready to get out of the house and start digging.
A decade of digging later, however, I’ve learned to relax about this thing I absolutely can’t control. My springtime serenity stems from two sources. The first comes from observing the long-term effects of that saturating late winter snow pac. Soggy in spring but still moist enough to prevent the need for watering well into summer, I’ve come to trust that Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. The other source of my calm comes from discovering a spring signal far more reliable (and delicious) than a date circled on my calendar.
The sap buckets start appearing in late January. The large maple syrup operations set long blue tap lines that run from tree to tree and then into huge covered containers, but there are still plenty of do-it-yourselfer’s and small operators who use the old-fashioned taps and buckets that are symbolic of the season.
We made maple syrup a few years in a row. Our buckets were recycled milk jugs. We collected sap for days and made exactly one gallon (you need 32 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup) on our old wood stove. Our old house was drafty enough that we didn’t mind turning our kitchen into a sauna for a few days, and it was the best maple syrup we ever tasted.
We buy our syrup now, and, even though it’s available at even the smallest producers through most of the year, picking up a gallon or two at the end of March has become as much a ritual as taking Thing2 to see Santa at the town Christmas party or planting my peas in soggy spring soil.
The steam started pouring from the sugar houses in late winter. Even now, the nighttime temperatures are still mostly in the freezing range even as the days get warmer, and the sap still flows. Last weekend, the first weekend in spring, the sugar houses opened their doors to tasters and tours, but it was just a date on the calendar. For me, it won’t be until the sap slows that spring will really begin. It’s when the sap buckets along our road come down.
It doesn’t make the spring season any less welcome, but it does make it a little bittersweet.