So, we got ahead of ourselves and the weather and started scrambling around for buckets last weekend. Ethan said that Clinton may have some old buckets for sale. Kyle said his uncles probably did. Nick said we might want to check with Sam. After several nervous and furtive calls went unanswered I took my mother in a snow storm 20 miles south to the nearest hardware store to buy some cheap modern plastic buckets. At this point I was just picturing sap streaming down every maple behind our house and I couldn't bare to let a natural sugar supply slip from my hold any longer. Mom and I came back with 10 buckets and 10 taps and 10 lids, a special tapping drill bit and $150 lighter. The new metal buckets would cost twice that. Obviously this could become an expensive endeavor fast so next year I will begin my calls for used buckets much earlier.
On Sunday as we were about to go tap we were told by Sarah that she thought we were too early. Sam wrote to say the same. Justin called to say so too.
I started to feel quite embarrassed about my excitement and sugaring naiveté Apparently, you don't want to tap too early as the tree will begin to heal around the tap hole immediately and that leaves you with only so many weeks of usable tap. Plus the neighbors will just have another reason to think of you as the asshole from the flatlands. Apparently the weather needs to be 6 degrees warmer than it said it was going to and the sun needs to be out to warm up the trees and on and on and on. I wish we had some sort of mentor here in Vermont for instances like this, where we feel utterly new and completely stupid. The complexity of sugaring and the nuances of reading the weather and the trees isn't something you can just learn from a book.
Despite the collective neighborly opinion that we were too early we decided to put up one tap (above!) just to see how it is done. We were going to use being too early to our unprepared advantage and start planning in detail which trees we would tap and how we would boil the sap to syrup.
Our next-door neighbor very kindly offered us the use of his meditation cabin for boiling down sap. It was perfect, I wish I had snapped a photo of it. A small wooden room with one wall made entirely of mismatched windows. It had a window seat long enough to recline upon and an upright cylindrical wood stove. The walls were peppered with various artifacts from his travels to India. He and Nick started a fire in the stove and put a pot of boiling water atop, to test how quickly it would heat up and how easily it would boil.
I'd imagine there is little doubt as to where this is going.
Nick left to do nighttime chores. I went to start cooking dinner (we were having all the immediate neighbors to dinner). The owner of the meditation cabin went into his house briefly to feed his cats and dog.
Before any of us had time to react the meditation cabin cum sugar shack was enveloped. We aren't sure quite how it happened. But happen it did. Quickly and silently and methodically as only fires can do.
Once the fire was discovered there was nothing we could do but watch it burn. Fortunately nobody had been sleeping on the window seat. No cats were curled up by the stove. There was a solid foot of snow surrounding the cabin and forbidding it to spread to our homes. So we watched, in complete disbelief. The five of us who spend our days weaving amongst one another on this little hilltop community, watched it burn. And then we ate dinner together and laughed at the absurdity of the night and felt the gratitude that our first fire on this farm was so harmless.
Now we have burnt to the ground the only shelter, stove, and pile of wood, we had at our disposal for the season.
I am not optimistic about how the rest of this "season" will follow. I think we may just bite the bullet and buy syrup from any one of our well-seasoned neighbors again this year. I want to limit the number of times we publicly embarrass ourselves. We will try to put a little time and distance between us and this first fiery attempt.