Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sap's Runnin'!... Well... not quite! Part Two

We are being held hostage... and in suspense here in our region as Winter and Spring continue to engage in a game of tug o' war. Winter seems to depart, yielding to the warm sun... and then comes steam rolling back with fierce winds... snow and sub-zero temperatures. A stale mate of sorts! We must all wait... for the "Maple Magic" to begin!

In order for the first sap run to get fully underway, there must be a series of sub-zero night time temperatures between -4 and -6C... along with above zero daytime temperatures of between 2 and 7C and sunshine. The warm days encourages the sap to rise, and the cool nights pump it back into the roots. The Ontario season usually begins in mid-March, lasting through to mid-April. If the buds open on the trees prematurely, the sap reduces its sweet taste drastically and the season is over. There is a critical balance in weather conditions here that will insure whether the season is good... or a bust.

Each tree, depending upon its size, can have more than one tap... typically with the spile/spigot being driven into the drill hole to a depth of about 7 cm. New holes are drilled each year and older holes heal over, so no damage or hurt is done to the tree. When trees are selected to be tapped they first have their girth measured about two feet above the ground. Trees under 25 cm are considered immature and not suitable for tapping. A tree between 25 and 35 cm can hold one tap. An ancient tree over 60cm can have up to four taps. While the flow of sap can occur slowly... or even not be present on other days.. it is possible when conditions are exactly right... to have a tree can yield as much as one-third of its annual output in a single day.

The early natives notched a gash low on a root or at the base of the tree and the gash fed the clear sap into waiting birch bark bucket-like baskets which were gathered and taken to a fire location. At this location, there was a hollowed out basswood log was filled with the sap. Stones were heated in the fire and were dropped into the trough to bring the sap to a boil. Needless to say... it was a tedious and difficult process. But this "sweet miracle" of Spring was a gift to hunting groups who festively gathered together after the long and harsh winter conditions in Ontario. In order to survive and to supply their game needs... the tribes broke down into smaller family hunting groups to work and simply survive together... sharing the rewards... or failure of the hunt. Many perished of hunger and disease... especially the elderly. This was truly a much awaited time to celebrate the return of Spring... Light... and tribal village life!

In pioneer times, the sap was boiled at first in single large iron kettles hung over constantly kept fires. But later... the single pot method gave way to "the three pot" method... where the sap was moved along from one pot to another and the heat intensity was reduced to alleviate the scorching or carmelization... that is disastrous to the quality of the maple syrup. This older method was improved upon with the advent of the "pan" method... where the syrup fed into a rectangular galvanized iron pan. The pan was heated from beneath by a constantly- fuelled hardwood fire contained in a brick-lined chamber directly beneath the sap. The bricks held the heat, decreasing the amount of wood required in the boiling off operation.
In today's bigger and more efficient shanties, this method has been replaced in these larger operations with gas fired burners below and stainless steel tanks... not unlike those in a dairy parlour. Everything is controlled to the nth degree... and obviously... thevolume and quality of the syrup can be better controlled and maintained to provide the greatest yield of product during the short and often erratic season.

I guess you could say that I might be biased... and perhaps lean towards the romantic... and I unabashedly do! But from my years of visiting various sugar shanties (even having sampled the "three pot" product)... I sincerely believe that there is an ambiance and patina given the syrup that is boiled the old way. Perhaps it is because of the smoke that infuses the interior of the shanty during the boiling off... and bits of ash that drop into the dark rich syrup. Perhaps ... it might just be the sweet aroma... the true "Maple Magic"... that fills that shanty constantly. "Nose candy"... I call it! Or perhaps... the notion lies only in my romantic and runaway imagination! For "Me"... and a host of many other Ontarians... Maple syruping is a gift that makes the tedium of helplessly waiting through long Winter months for Spring simply... evaporate!

I will post one more Maple Memory... Part Three... with photo jpegs that illustrate some of these details more clearly for those readers... "from away"! HAHA!! Today's jpegs are my plein air works from this week. Two painterly pochade pieces completed on a bitter Tuesday afternoon... and a sweet, loosely painted 10x 12 panel done yesterday on an uplifting and lovely warm Wednesday afternoon at The Lalonde Family Shanty that is located in the nearby Elmvale area in Springwater Township!

Sweet Dreams of Spring... and Good Painting to All!
PS Deb and I did indeed have our fill of Shrove Tuesday Pancakes, Maple Syrup and Old fashioned Ham.... Cooked by my Self... right here in our apartment above The Paint Box Gallery!
YUM!...YUM!... YUMMM!!


  1. Well alas...I haven't a clue as to what Shrove Tuesday that the same as Fat Tuesday (which I don't know what that means either)?

    Love reading the continuing saga of the maple farmers and their processes. I mentioned this post to a 74 year old lady I work with and she told me that we have maple sap harvests right here in IL. I never knew that. So? I'm going to look them up and see what I can see.

    I love the pictures your words paint for me, Bruce. I believe we do share a heart for some things indeed.

  2. What a yummy breakfast you made on Shrove Tuesday. Yes I think it is the same as Fat Tuesday, day before lent begins.

    I agree with Autumn Leaves, you do paint a lovely picture with your words. And for people who do not speak English, your paintings say it all, art being the universal language. Another wonderful visit Bruce.

    Thank you for sharing, have a wonderful day.

    All the best

  3. Hi there Sherry!... "Shrove Tuesday" is simply an Anglo-Saxon Christian derived term that can be similarly translated and used as... "Fat Tuesday"! Both refer to Lenten season. HAHA!!

    Maple trees are indigenous to North America only... and the greatest concentration of these hardwoods occur in the eastern hardwood forest regions of Canada and the U.S right through to the Great Lakes. This would account for the presence of a maple syrup tradition in your part of Illinois.

    It encourages "Me" Sherry... that my words paint pictures that inspire "You".
    Conversely... I humbly hope that my pictures create word thoughts that take "You" beyond the visual images presented. Two "voices"... equal in function and effect. My hope is purely to encourage those I meet... to think... and perhaps take action in their own daily lives and journeys!

    I am very much inspired by the power of your own writing... and that I think that congruence... more than anything else we might share... enjoins "Us"... as Kindred Spirits!

    Thanks for your uplifting visit and comments!

    Good Sketching...Painting and Writing!
    Warmest regards,

  4. Good Morning Friend Joan!... Good to hear from "You" again!

    Thank "You very much for your kind and encouraging remarks about my words and blog site activity! The goal is to create a forum for kindred spirits to visit... share thoughts about making art and to reach out to the world around us.

    Too often in the process of making art... we find our Selves sequestered in our own personal space... alone with our own thoughts and ideas... being completely out of touch with the rest of the world.

    Family interaction and blogging provides each of us with an opportunity to find a balance in our lives... an eqilibrium, if you will.. to receive the joy that only comes out of being with other human beings we admire... love and trust.

    I always look forward to visiting your lovely site... to watch "You" grow... and to find that "You" have paid "Me" a visit! Sort of like finding a letter in your mail box... makes "You" feel special!

    Love your current searching using your various sketching media.Some lovely work evolving because of that consistent activity!

    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. amazing paintings and prose! thank you for such an interesting post! your paintings are just beautiful. stay warm and it'll be over soon!

  6. Hi Suzanne!... Thank "You" for these wonderful
    compliments! Receiving them from a peer and an artist whose work I consistently admire...makes
    these compliments all the more special!

    I really admire your own prose... and sense of humour as well as the high caliber work that you consistently produce.

    It is snowing... again... as I write.The slushy variety at present. But who knows what it will turn to... We'll just have to wait and see!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Bruce! You are so wise in the ways of sugaring! Not only do you evoke emotion with you paintings, but the words you choose to describe the experience makes me want to take up the sugaring craft! I want to experience for myself the "ambiance and patina given the syrup that is boiled the old way!" I guess I will have to add that to my list...

    Thank you so much for continuing to share. I really look forward to each of your posts :)

  8. I can remember learning about the maple sugar processing methods of the natives and early settlers as a child in school and we drew pictures of such an event out of our imaginations. I continue to admire your fortitude in painting outdoors in freezing weather. I go for a walk with my husband (and dogs) every morning up the mountain trail and some days it's all I can do to keep moving - I couldn't picture myself standing with an easel and canvas out there.

  9. Hi Bridget!... What a complimentary response... from an artist and writer whose both "voices" I deeply enjoy ... and admire! Thank "You"!

    It might seem trite and again overly romanticized to some Bridget... but my life journey is replete... and deeply blessed with countless simple gifts and blessings.

    DO add this Spring ritual,if offered the opportunity... to sit inside a working sugar shanty... filled with the warmth and scent of a hardwood fire... blended with the incomparable maple vapour.Only then will you... or anyone else know and understand what I am describing.

    Painting outdoors and travelling about the countryside offers one so many more opportunities to savour life to its fullest measure.

    Even Winter in its deepest form offers sights and experiences... that more than make up for the cold! Surprisingly... one's body does adjust and get used to being out. Just make sure you in proper dress!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  10. Hey "You" .... Thanks for dropping by! We have a historical attraction in nearby Midland called Sainte- Marie-Amongst-the-Hurons. It is a replica of the French fortress and settlement created during the Fur Trade era. It was the place where the Jesuit Fathers arrived to bring Christianity to the Huron First Nation. Three of their brethren, icluding Father Brebeuf were ruthlessly martyred nearby at the hands of the Iroquois.

    The site now has re-enactment days where both French and Huron traditional experiences are carried out. One of these is the making of maple syrup... from the "sweet water" of the maples.

    Our area is a very important link to the very earliest beginning of settlement activity in all of Canada. Even my street address... Penetanguishene Road speaks of this native presence.

    If you live in the Georgian Bay area... winter plays a very large part in one's life. The inconvenience (for some) of excessive snow... wind... cold are more than made up for by the presence of beautifully hilly and scenic landscape. It's home for "Me"!

  11. Beautiful paintings Bruce...your colour and light put me right on site!!! I must say my fav is the bottom one!


  12. Hi to the West Coastal!... Great to hear from "You" Jeffrey... and thanks for the kind comments!

    Colour and light do that... and so does a plein air approach. But I have no need to explain to "You"... or Linny ... do I Jeffrey! HAHA!!

    The last two are pochade "babies"... delivered on site!. Not surprising that your fav is the last one they! We share many similarities in our ideas... principles and connectedness to the Earth!

    Good Painting!... and Happy Sppring!
    Warmest regards,