Paul’s Sap Truck

This time of year and earlier, I watched for Paul’s sap truck passing our house to the sugar maple grove at the bottom of the hill. There, he pumped the sap that collected in a metal vat during day. Then, the truck strained as it carried the full load uphill to his sugarhouse a mile away.

Even if there were snow on the ground, Paul’s sap truck was a sign spring was on its way in western Massachusetts.

When the weather is right, consistently above-freezing during the day and below during the night, the sugar maple trees do their thing. And sugarers like Paul collect their sap, boil it down to syrup and bottle it. That lasts until the nights stop freezing for good.

Old-time sugarers used to hammer spigots into the trees and hang buckets to collect the sap. Now, sugarers use tubing and back at the sugarhouse, a reverse osmosis machine that reduces water in the sap so it takes less time and firewood to boil it into syrup. Still it is a labor-intensive process.

When I was a reporter covering the hill towns of Western Massachusetts, I did many stories about maple sugaring. I tried to find different angles. I rode with sugarers as they did a sap run late in the afternoon. Once I caught the first boil of the season with Paul. I wrote about new and old technology. About all-night boils and seasons cut short by the weather. About big-time sugarers. And hobby sugarers. 

I enjoyed being in the rustic sugarhouses, listening to the sugarers’ stories, the lingo they used. I savored the smell and sight of firewood being fed into the evaporator’s oven — and the rising steam. There is nothing like this in Northern New Mexico, where I now live, although certainly it has its earthy traditions.

When Hank went back East this winter, he stopped to see Paul, still going strong sugaring. He sent back jugs of maple syrup he made as a gift. I’m making them last as long as I can.


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