Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's on tap....locally? - Part Five

Nothing with a sudsy head for certain ! Just gallon upon gallon of clear... "sweet water" as the native tribes referred to it... dripping noisily into well-seasoned sap buckets slung either alone ... or in clusters on mature maples in every hard maple stand in the Oro-Medonte. Where the bucket brigade has given way to the plastic world... sap is sucked under pressure through miles of clear plastic piping or tubing that spiderwebs its way from the tapped trees throughout the bush... via plastic arteries. This plastic waterway transports the sap directly to stainless steel holding tubs in the main shanty. Here.. it is gathered and held until it is piped over to the gas fuelled stainless steel evaporator in specific increments for boiling.

While the newer process is obviously geared to a more efficient... volume-oriented result, both share the same result - Liquid Canadian Gold! Both produce the same various grades.... light ... medium and dark syrup that are bottled and sold. However, despite the method... it can be duly noted that the maple syrup made by every man and operation... will vary in taste and patina. Each year, there are World Championships held to bestow awards of excellence to producers across Canada and the US.

Making syrup that "has pedigree"... along with superb taste gives serious producers...."a leg up" in the marketing of their product either locally, nationally, or even internationally. So maple syrup production in high yields areas like our own... is BIG business!

Check out the creche of ribbons... trophies and awards earned by McCutcheon Maple Syrup... and note that at least two World Champion Ribbons are amongst the spoils! Check out that neat... zany... off-the-wall Maple Violin crafted by a local crafts person. And yes... it can be played !

Yesterday, I drove over for a visit with my maple-producing friends Rene and Ken McCutcheon at their farm and bush operation. They are "back-to-the-land"... conservationist folk who have "walked the talk." They and their two children have lived totally from the land they own and have had stewardship over. They also run a premier apiary business and are fine honey makers. They even combine the maple syrup and honey to make maple butter - a must on our spring time breakfast table! Great on hot cross buns! I am... Soooooooooo predictable! HAHA!!!

Rene also is an acclaimed potter and ceramicist. Her earthy, uniquely designed pieces... once again are cross-pollinated with her love of maple syruping and honey production. Her tableware, jars, pots and bees wax candles and molds quickly find their way out of their sugar house and their Saturday stall at the local farmer's market... and into the kitchens and homes of countless admiring customers such as ourselves .
Too quickly... she recounted yesterday. So she and Ken decided to take a winter hiatus to re-energize after the sugar house blitz and honey production last season. They spent six restful weeks in BC. The year after year... night after sleepless night ritual that has governed their adult lives... manning the ever-demanding boilers... boiling... sterilizing... bottling and vending tasks that make up the six week season made them come to a decision to take a break. Refreshed... they are back on duty with their family... their bush open to visitors from 1:00 thru 5:00 pm daily during these next six weeks.

Oh yes... and did I mention the snowshoeing "parties" around the bush in waist-deep snow to drill and attach tubing? And as well... flushing and cleaning the miles of plastic tubing joining over 6000 tapped trees... which must be cleaned when the season closes... but must be redone... before the new season begins? Oh... and yes the sterilizing... labeling and pouring of bottles by grade in preparation for sale? And as well... there's making the specialized products that are unique to their shanty. They create maple butter and maple candy poured formed into the delicious maple sugar in leaf-shaped candies that our family fight over!

I think that you must get the full picture at this point. This is a way of life... not a way to just make a living. They have dedicated their entire young and adult lives to their passion... and to the careful stewardship of their piece of Mother Earth. They have educated their children from the proceeds of fir trees that they and their children planted... nurtured and finally harvested to pay for the bulk of the their schooling costs. They no longer harvest trees... but when we first arrived in the Oro-Medonte... we annually cut our own first Christmas trees from their dwindling stand of spruce, balsam and Scotch pine.

I have very much enjoyed sharing this ritual with you... and am proud to introduce you to our uniquely Canadian rite of Spring activity here in the beautiful Oro-Medonte region. If you ever find yourself travellin' our way... look me up or call. I would be happy to act as your personal tour guide in the area ! It's worth the visit!

My "surprise" that I have alluded to ... but withheld... is that on March 28th thru' to April 13th... Deb and I will be heading to the Barbados to spend two weeks with my eldest daughter Lisa at her home there. YES! My (empty) trusty 55 year old paint box will be making the trip too! Lisa has many activities planned for us.... snorkeling... cricket match... polo game and touring. But... I will head out on my own from time to time... to make Barbadian landscapes... comin' yer way soon I hope... so stay tuned!

The Universe "speaks"... in mysterious ways. Some "conversations are hard to decipher at times... and are even frightening to contemplate. But my belief is... and has always been.... If you "stay the course! Keep the Faith! Work hard!... and BELIEVE! Good things come round!
Don't be fooled by the red mackinaw... and beard! It 's not me! It's Ken... in his "office" suit! The mackinaw is formal dress in this neck-o-the-woods! HAHA! The boys are ours.... photo circa 2009. Liam ... the tallest is now 16 and is momentarily holding at 6 foot 3 inches. Bryn will be 15 in May and is now looking me in the eye!
In my final Maple Syrup post Six, I hope to draw a comparison between the traditional and the more modern methods and the shanties to clarify how they differ in appearance and function using pen and ink sketches.
This will be the "final run"... for certain!Promise !
Good Painting and Happy Spring!... to All!


  1. Lovely post, Bruce. You and your friends are inspiring!
    How exciting for you and Deb to be heading to the Barbados! and for two weeks! Your daughter must be soooo excited! Have a wonderful time--and Happy Painting while you're there!

  2. Thank "You" Bridget!... It is indeed inspiring to have friends who actually live totally from the land... humbly... respectfully... with a sense of humanity that leaves you inspired and in awe of their achievements... and their obvious sense of Peace and Contentment!

    Ken and Rene come the closest in my own mind to true conservationists... the same ilk as Americans Helen and Scott Nearing... Whitman... and Thoreau! I admire them deeply!

    We will indeed enjoy visiting Lisa's world... "She" loves it so and is happy in it! I'll hopefully have something of worth from the easel to show you when I get back!

    Thanks again!
    Good Painting and Writing!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Hi Bruce, once again you have me drooling as I read through this post! The nearest we have, to this sort of thing, is some neighbours who keep bees and make heather honey. It's a small operation compared with your cottage industries though.

    Thanks for your generous offer of hospitality, we will certainly take you up on it if we get over to your part of the World.

    I hope you have a good time in Barbados. I'm guessing you won't be taking your mackinaw!

    All the best,

  4. Somehow I missed this post, Bruce. And you've saved the best for last! I'm wishing I could have lived my life as these folks have. It sounds just exquisitely perfect, albeit not an easy route. But your description is exactly the type of idyllic way to live that I've always admired and wanted for my family. Your boys are quite the handsome gents too!

  5. Good Sunday Morning Keith!... Thanks for dropping by!

    The offer of hospitality stands... and is redeemable... whenever! No samll print to be read... no asterisks... and all other costs to you... covered!

    We will indeed enjoy our time in the Barbados with Lisa and I did... in fact suggest jokingly... taking along my comfy "trusty red"... but the return glare suggested the answer to that one! HAHA!!

    Good Painting!... and Happy Spring Keith!
    Warmest regards,

  6. Good morning Friend Sherry!... ALWAYS!..... Save the best till last Sherry! That goes for the way that one chooses to lead their lives!

    It is never too late to learn from the past... and live fully in the Present... and enjoy the moment... and circumstances that "You" are blessed with. Events in Libya and Japan strengthen that view. No more be said!

    There is no "idyllic way"... "no easy route" for anyone in Life from my own observations and experiences Sherry. Finding Peace and Contentment requires searching... "Within"... and therein lies both the Quest... and the Grace!... Not the Grail!HAHA!!!

    The lads... we agree... are handsome Dudes... and "Good Spirits"! We are proud of them both... and each of the other five children... both sides as well! We aptly refer to them collectively... as The Group of Seven! Very Canadian!... EH? HAHA!!

    Good Painting and writing... and Happy Spring!
    Warmest regards,

    PS "I" personally prefer not to prescribe to either "Idol"... or "Idyll" worship. Grace comes only...out of Hardship... Humility and Humanity!... and of course Hard work! HAHA!

  7. Hi Bruce,

    How fascinating. To be passionate about what we do is definitely a gift. You paint a wonderful picture, with your words, and the photo's are wonderful. Your boys are handsome and don't they grow so fast.

    It is always a treat to visit your blog, I will be looking forward to your next post.

    Happy Spring to you also.

  8. Hi Joan!... I can't imagine an existence without Passion... without feeling alive... fully looking forward to and living each day as it comes to "Me". There have been those days... in my distant past, thankfully... where that was so.

    I know there are those who choose the other path.I won't condemn them for their choice...but "I" simply can't journey with them. It completely defeats my Self!

    "I" choose to connect... converse... share and travel with those who likewise share my ideals... optimism and Passion for living.

    "You" are one of those that I have met... and I always enjoy our "conversations! Thanks for dropping by and making this rainy second day of Spring here... a bit more "sunny"!

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

  9. A very informative post Bruce. YOu are doing some great work there in Maple syrup country!

  10. Hi there Caroline!... Got it right this time!Sorry for the (Carolyn) "senior moment" on the last post! HAHA!!

    I'm very glad that you are enjoying the series.

    It always makes the blogging more meaningful and rewarding... when you carry experiences outside of the daily life of others in the blogging family to be shared... so that they can have a ..."taste'! HAHA!! Couldn't resist that sweet play on words!

    The season is now underway... as are other aspects of change locally... that suggest Spring has indeed....Sprung!

    Thanks for dropping by and for adding your encouraging words and comments!

    Good painting! ... and Happy Spring!
    Warmest regards,

  11. This has definitely been a very educational series of posts and great photos! Wish I could visit and see it for myself. These people obviously work very hard in their dedication and are to be admired and emulated when possible. As you say, not everyone can take the same road though.
    I "saw" you today on the blog of a new follower of mine, Rosie Tremain from MY WALES blog! You know, we could easily spend all day just traveling around from blog to blog!

  12. Thank "You" Karen... for your visit and for your words of support and encouragement!

    There are many paths that could be be chosen in conducting one's journey Karen... and each path chosen is the sole responsibility of the pilgrim/ traveller.

    We are indeed all different... in so many possible ways. But isn't it a bit more comforting journey for each of "Us"... when we can at least travel together and share... even for just a while? I find that true for "Me"!

    Good luck with finishing Samanda... it looks wonderful at this point!

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