The Chickadee has been singing his spring song! It sounds like "Seee Sir! Seee Sir!" We used to call it the See Sir bird. That and the sound of chainsaws in the woods used to be sure signs of Spring. We hardly hear chainsaws anymore, but I'm pretty excited about the See Sir bird.
The big freeze is starting to break up. We had 3 or 4 inches of snow Monday and Tuesday, making it all pretty again. The woods are a study in black and white. But it is starting to get above the freezing mark during the days. The icicles are dripping, only to freeze up again at night. As I looked out of the window at the office today, I saw what looked like an animal's tail flapping in the woods! After staring for a while, I realized I was looking at a man waving at his two children. The children were wearing pink and blue jackets-a splash of color. They have sap lines attached to the maple trees back there, and they were checking the hoses and connections. The weather is starting to cooperate with the maple producers.
Maple syrup is a product of the sap or water of the sugar maple tree that grows in the deciduous forests of New England and other northern states and into Canada. When the days get above freezing and the nights are cold, the sap starts to "run" and enterprising country folk take advantage by tapping the trees and gathering sap. Buckets hanging on trees is a common sight, but more and more often you see blue hoses strung up from tree to tree. The sap is then boiled down into maple syrup. It takes 45-55 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, but the stuff is Manna from Heaven! I remember my Dad taking us kids off to a dark smoky sugarhouse. The smell was so sweet and woodsy! While the guys stood around talking, they gave us tastes in little tiny pleated paper cups. It was hard to get enough.
There were always a few sugarhouses around that ran rustic restaurants during the sugaring season. One was Gray's Sugarhouse in Ashfield, Mass. People came from all over, even New York City, to sit on logs covered with oilcloth and eat corn fritters and pancakes generously buttered and covered with warm maple syrup. Sometimes the wait was as long as 2 hours to get in. Gray's is closed now, but sugarhouse restaurants are becoming more and more popular--we all anxiously await the first ones opening. We all have our favorites-I love South Face Farm, also in Ashfield. They have pancakes, french toast, waffles, corn fritters, blueberry sauce, ham, bacon and sausage, and maple ice cream and milkshakes too! If you have to wait to get in, you can talk to Tom while he boils the sap, or peruse the museum-like exhibits around the room.
Another sign of Spring that goes hand in hand with sugaring is MUD SEASON! Every driveway and every dirt road turn into slippery, treacherous mud. There are places you just don't want to go during mud season. Gosh, the old "Nash Rambler" that my grandfather used to drive got stuck half way up the side doors in mud on the way to my uncle's dairy farm one year. They had to pull it out with a tractor. Cars are a lot lighter now, and most roads have more solid bases and don't get so deep. Many of us have all wheel drive. Its a good thing! I've had to be towed out of a few places because I couldn't wait till summer to explore this road or that lakeside drive. When there has been a lot of snow, the rivers burst forth with runoff, as in this picture of the dam in Shelburne Falls. I love to go and check it out on a rainy spring day. Below the dam when the water is lower, you can see the glacial potholes that the Native Americans used to consider sacred. The rock formations are smoothed out by eons of water, creating holes and hollows-some shallow, some deep, that are great to see and imagine climbing around in. For safety's sake the area is closed off, but there are great vantage points.
So we're on the verge of Spring ... maple syrup and See Sir birds ... meltwater runoffs and pussywillows ... snow drops and crocuses! I can just feel my own sap starting to flow. I have always gotten new hairstyles, painted walls, bought flowering plants in February. It's like I'm waking up from a long nap. Bright colors start to thrill me. I begin to plan my summer trips, start looking for some good sturdy sandals. The kayak is waiting. It's coming!