Sugaring off is a Spring time expression very common to rural people across Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States... but is scarcely known ... if at all even understood in other parts of the world. It marks an annual ritual that has been part of rural culture dating back to earliest settlement in New France (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario)... and even before European contact by the First Nations tribes in these areas.
Sugaring off refers to the spring time cycle of sap being released from the safety from winter cold in the root system of the Sugar Maple. Other maple species also follow this cycle, but the sap of the Sugar Maple offers the highest sugar content. The flow of sap usually begins in late February... reaching its apex by mid March. This flow is brought on by the increasingly warmer sun and longer days of light which signals the trees to begin releasing the sap back up into the trunk of the tree. It is at this point that the tree is "tapped" by means of boring a hole with an auger or drill and a metal "spigot" is driven into the hole to act as a tap to carry the clear sap to a galvanized metal pail which is hung on a hook on the spigot.
In earliest times First Canadian Peoples simply hacked a wedge-shaped v on one of the root arms and set a birch bark container in this wedge to collect the precious spring nectar. The first settlers had augers and often whittled wooden spigots out of Stag Horn Sumac and forced a metal rod down through the soft pith core to hollow out a channel in the shaft of the spigot. They simply flattened the one side and notched the spigot end to hang wooden pails on each tree.
Maple stands existed in primary growth forests and were added to by early settlers. Many large Sugar Maples aged between 100 to 250 years can be found and along Line Roads which run north to south here in the Oro-Medonte region. These hardwood ancients were planted for their sap-bearing potential... but as well they serve as markers for these roads and were planted because of their longevity and resistance to insect infestation.
Early operations were small and limited to a few hundred trees depending upon the land grant size of each farm and of course the availability of labour to carry out the hours of hard labour in less than ideal deep snow or muddy spring conditions. Today, operations involve several thousands of trees all joined by plastic tubing and linked directly to the sugar house where the boiling takes place. In short, Maple syrup production has become big business and distribution of maple syrup and maple sugar candy now reaches out to all parts of the world.
I have been a part of this annual ritual for nearly forty years and have painted in many bushes.... many of them now vanished... as are the homesteads they sat on. Small family operations still carry on... many in the old tradition of pails... spigots... and horse-drawn sleds and wagons to gather. I am very fortunate to have several of these nearby... a couple of them friends who always welcome me ... and hundreds of annual buyers who also have befriended them and look forward to their spring return.
Over the next few posts and weeks... I will report my travels so that you too... can enjoy "Maple Magic".... as we here in Ontario are blessed to enjoy. I might even take in one of the many church pancake breakfasts that are prevalent as well. In nearby Elmvale... and in Warkworth to the east.... they have Maple Syrup Festivals which draw tens of thousands of visitors over a two day span to enjoy music... maple products and a farmers' market atmosphere!
Stay tuned... as the "flow" continues! HAHA!!
Spring... is indeed in the air!!
Good Painting to All !