High: 42°FEarlier this week, the caninaturalist and I penned an angry letter to Punxsutawney Phil. We’re not proud. It was a rash thing to do, born out of animus and the difficulty one of us is having re-acclimating to frozen New England after spending 8 days in the Caribbean. It was wrong of us to take out this frustration on a work-a-day rodent just trying to earn an honest living. We see that now. Really. And to be honest, we’re a little embarrassed.
Conditions: Partly cloudy with snow showers arriving late. Accumulation of up to one inch.
Since we posted that memo to Phil, little tin buckets have been sprouting on maple trees all over Central Maine. At first, we attributed this to Yankee optimism or outdated calendars. But, after a few days, the evidence is clear: it’s sugaring season.
Maine is the second biggest producer of maple syrup in the U.S. (better watch out Vermont, we’re gaining on you!). Each year in early spring, just about anyone with a few sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) and a spigot enters the syrup-making business.
Much of this is pure tedium for the canines in our neighborhood. Ari only cares about a sugar maple leaf (the best way of telling if a tree will yield the right kind of sap) if it is blowing across the trail and can be pounced upon as if it were a vole or one of our rescue cats.
She certainly doesn’t seem to care that, during the winter months, trees stop growing and, instead, store excess starches in their sapwood. When temperatures rise to somewhere around 40° F, the tree begins converting that starch to sugar as a way of jump-starting spring growth. When the temperature drops below freezing at night, the sugars begin to drop, too. This ping-ponging effect creates a pressure differential inside the tree that causes the sap to run. If some enterprising human has thought to drill a hole in that tree and place a bucket below it, then that sap can be collected and boiled into syrup.
I’ve taken the caninaturalist to see some sap-leeching trees and logs. She wasn’t very impressed. And the aluminum sap buckets aren’t very interesting to her either. But the boiling process is. We recently helped our neighbor convert her sap into syrup. It takes 10 gallons of sap to produce one quart of syrup. That’s a lot of boiling—sometimes even two straight days of cooking off the excess moisture. As the sap cooks, wonderful caramelized smells start wafting off the boiler. That’s when Ari gets interested.
It doesn’t matter that dogs only have about 1700 taste buds on their tongues (compared to our 9000). Forget about the fact that they are less obsessed with sweet than we are. This dog loves syrup. A lot. She once tried to eat the cap from an empty syrup bottle, and probably would have in a crazed attempt to glean the very last drop of sweetness from the plastic, had I not insisted she spit out the cap. God help us all if she figures out how to open the pantry where we keep our syrup stores. There isn’t enough insulin in the world to combat a rowdy husky mix coked up on gallons of liquid sugar.
To be honest, a good part of me understands Ari’s love affair with syrup. Sugar is energy; it’s life-giving. That’s what spring is all about. Reminders of that fact are flowing out of every sugar maple in New England right now. How could someone not be excited by this fact?
We’re sorry, Phil. We never should have doubted you. Maybe we could make it up to you with a big plate of pancakes? We know just where to find the perfect topping.