Snow, Snow, Go Away (Cabin Fever)

The sky turned white and it snowed (sideways) for 36 hours this weekend.

Our Easter Sunday drive. Not a pretty picture!

With the return of feels-like-January weather, I can feel that I have a severe case of cabin fever (it’s a real thing).

cab·in fe·ver
noun (informal)
irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from long confinement or isolation indoors during the winter.

Yes, that’s what I feel—listlessness. A complete lack of interest in doing anything. I have no energy to engage in any of my usual modes of entertainment: reading, going outside, garden planning, conversing with others. Instead, I have spent a substantial amount of time napping and doing essentially nothing.

This afternoon the sun came out and we did go for a short ski, but didn’t stay out too long on account of strong winds.

Skiing on our property. In April.

In retrospect, I wish we’d have bundled up better, taken the snowshoes, and spent more time outside.

Last week I was in Massachusetts, where the weather was comparatively more spring-like. I made a quick trip to a nature area that I’d been to last year, also in late March. There was no snow, open water, and ducks and geese. I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear the familiar quacks of a mallards and to see waterfowl swimming through flooded forest.

Along the trail at the Arcadia nature preserve in Massachusetts. I was also here last year at the same time of year.

It will be another month before we have ducks floating through our flooded woods, and today the wait feels like forever!

Do you get cabin fever?

It is Spring, and it is Not Spring

I’m liking paradox lately. I’ve recently finished listening to Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (amazing! highly recommended!) and she talks about the paradox of creativity in that book—perhaps I’ll talk about that in a future post, but in the meantime you should really just read that book.

I’m sure that having something both be and not be drives some people crazy. Those people probably think in terms of black and white. But I rarely see things as black or white; all ideas, thoughts, actions seem to be in countless shades of gray— if I ever see anything in terms of black or white, it’s really going to be black and white.

Anyway, as I was continuing to think about this transition from winter to spring, it occurred to me that I am living in a paradox:

It is spring. And it is not spring.

It is spring because we have tapped our maple trees and started making syrup. It is spring because the snow is melting and the rivers are open, and because there are geese and swans and cranes in the sky.

But it is not spring because there is still snow, and the sap in our buckets is frozen solid. And it is not spring because we went ice fishing today, and I cannot believe that one can ice fish in any season but winter.

Heading out on the lake.

It was a great day to go out. I haven’t ice fished in almost 10 years. Sexy and I went a few times long ago, but there was always a mishap: a broken heater, forgotten bait, something. So we only went a few times and I don’t think I ever caught anything. In recent years, I help out an our local fishing derby but don’t actually fish. But I’ve been wanting to spend more time outside, and this seemed like a good way to pass the time and a time of year (winter, not winter; spring, not spring) when there isn’t much else to do.

Our neighbor showed us where to go and lent me a shack, and we caught 17 crappies.

My share of the catch.

In trying to decide what season it currently is, it would be most appropriate to say mud season. I was thrilled to learn that there is a Russian word—rasputitsa—that describes when the roads go to hell during muddy spring and fall seasons. But if there were a mud season, I’d still be trying to figure out: Is today winter, or is it mud season? When does mud season officially become spring?

This is why paradox is better: because there are no crisp edges to seasons. It is spring. And it isn’t.

 

Tapping Day

Saturday was tapping day, the day where we tapped more than 100 trees so that we can make maple syrup over the coming weekends.

I’ve decided that tapping day is one of my favorite days of this year. It doesn’t mark the actual start of spring, but it’s the clearest sign that spring is on its way. Tapping day is the beginning of the end of winter—a period of about 6 weeks during which the snow melts and everything that was buried starts to emerge.

I especially liked this tapping day because it was the first time I have been able to really be outside in quite a while. I had a nasty flu and am still recovering weeks later. I could only walk on snowshoes and carry buckets through the woods for so long, but it was a treat to be out and moving.

With the trees running as soon as we tapped them,  it won’t be long before we’ll be carrying buckets full of sap.

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Make Maple Syrup (Part 3): The Boil

Now that you’ve tapped your trees and collected sap, it’s time to make syrup!

The General Process

Boiling sap down to syrup sounds pretty easy—and it is—but there are a few things to be ready for in advance. First, it takes a lot of sap to make syrup. An average yield is about 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup, although the actual amount will vary depending on the sugar content of your sap (as well as whether you tapped any red maple trees—either accidentally or on purpose!). This means that an awful lot of water needs to be boiled off and the boiling process will take a long time. It also means that you’ll want to boil outside so that you don’t steam up your kitchen to the point that it resembles a sauna.

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Making syrup at the neighborhood sugar shack.

Continue reading “Make Maple Syrup (Part 3): The Boil”

Make Maple Syrup (Part 2): Tap Trees

As the days creep toward days above freezing, it’s time to tap trees and start collecting maple sap. In the previous post, you lined up the supplies that you’ll need: spiles, a cordless drill, a bit, containers, and a few other things.

Find the Trees

Of course, you’ll start by finding trees to tap. While you could probably make some type of syrup from just about any tree, the delicious syrup that you’ll actually want on your pancakes comes from sugar maple trees. Sugar maples have more sugar in their sap, which means that you’ll have to boil less sap to make syrup from a sugar maple than, say, a red maple.

Fortunately for me, this part of the world has tons of sugar maple trees.

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Tapping day at our neighborhood sugarbush.

Look for healthy trees that measure at least 10” in diameter (that’s about 32” around if you have a cloth tape measure) about 3–4 feet above the ground. Trees with large crowns, such as yard trees, and a south-facing exposure are even better. Continue reading “Make Maple Syrup (Part 2): Tap Trees”

Make Maple Syrup (Part 1): Get Ready!

Making maple syrup is the perfect activity to say “goodbye” to winter and welcome the muddy, messy of year that let’s us know that spring is here. This four-part series will cover what you need to know to get started making maple syrup.

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Yes, this series will include cookies!

How it Works

Maple syrup is concentrated from tree sap, which contains sugars that the tree uses to grow and develop. In the fall, while we’re busy taking photographs and enjoying glorious fall colors, the trees are hard at work moving carbohydrates (think: sugars!) and nutrients from the leaves down into their root systems to store them over the winter. Continue reading “Make Maple Syrup (Part 1): Get Ready!”

Mud Season: Maple Season

After another long and cold winter, it’s finally warming up. And we’ve been hard at work at our new mud season tradition: making maple syrup. Last  year, our neighbors’ started a bit of a community sugar bush, and it was a learning experience. This year, we know a little bit more about what to expect and our expanding.

Tapping Weekend

We tapped 32 trees on our property about a week ago, right before the first warm up. Then, this past weekend we expanded about 125 trees on two other properties.

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Drilling a hole.
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Inserting the spile.
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A tapped tree (with sap already running).
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Putting the bucket on the tree.

Want more maple goodness? You can check out the cookie recipe too!