The Forest Tapped; Maple Syrup to Come

by Tig Tillinghast

Saturday we tapped the Hubbard Hill bush. Five of us teemed over the hill, putting up 500 taps into holes we drilled into the trees. That night I moved the tapping equipment – mostly power drills with extra batteries and rechargers over at the Strafford bush in preparation for tapping on Sunday. Driving over with a rig full of equipment, I could see off to the west what seemed like an aircraft light floating over the bush. It took me a bit to realize that it was the planet Jupiter, for some reason brighter than I’d ever seen it. Bright enough that I took out my phone with its terrible digital camera to capture it (see below).

[Jupiter passing over the Strafford bush the night before tapping]

Coming up Sawnee Bean Road, adrenaline pumped through me when I could first catch sight of the Strafford property. I wondered if I’d be able to sleep that night, with the prospect of getting tapped the next day. The Strafford bush lay up at the end of a valley that wends down Barker Brook way, through to Thetford and merging with the valley of the Ompomanoosuc River. When people in Thetford drive north on route 113, they look left up through both of those valleys and see a field up at the very top, bordered by trees. They wonder where that is, and why it always has snow when the ground in the valley lay bare. When I drive that way, I look up and my pulse quickens, knowing the potential of those trees and of all the work we’ve put in to get them there.

After putting away the equipment for the next day at the Strafford sugar shack, I stepped outside to watch the trees and listen. Enough wind was up to keep twigs in the canopy rattling against one another. I again thought I must be mistaken about Jupiter and that it must be some sort of man-made light source. It was just so large.

In the starlight I could make out the lightly swaying trees in their little depressions in the snow that indicate sugar season is about to start. Robert had mentioned that it would snow Sunday, which only made me more eager. While other sugarmakers would hold off a day tapping, we were ready with new lines, all above the snow. No blizzard would be able to slow us. We’d be done by lunch, another eleven hundred holes drilled, tapped and hooked to the mainlines running down to the shack.

By this time, I’d decided the light was Jupiter – a friendly presence often visiting during late night boils. It reminded me of Robert Frost writing a couple generations ago about Orion looking in on the doings of a man, arriving by “throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains.” I turned to the east to see just that, Orion having risen in Jupiter’s path up over Tug Mountain.

I write this now Sunday evening. We are tapped out. Monday and Tuesday will be cold, and no sap will run – thankfully, as we have much work to do in the sugar shack to be ready to boil and make maple syrup. Wednesday will be warm enough to warrant testing the vacuum system, and then Thursday and Friday, the gates of spring will open, heralded by the rushing sound of sap coming off of Hubbard Hill through lines we’ve directed to the flat below.