Yesterday, when I took my dog, Liam, for his afternoon walk, the day was again sunny and warm, the temperature was 50ºF, and maple syrup was still on my mind. (See yesterday’s post, Maple Syrup Alert.) Where I live, it is wooded and rural, and I passed by a section where the maple trees are being tapped. As luck would have it, two men were collecting the sap from the trees and bringing it to huge barrels in the back of a pickup truck. As I went by the truck, one of the men was in the back, and I stopped to speak to him.
“How it is going?” I asked.
“Slow,” he responded, grimacing.
“Not getting very much?”
“It’s too warm. We’ve lost three weeks. The other day, I was actually out picking pussy willows.”
“When do you usually do that?” I asked.
“Mid-March,” came the reply.
It was my turn to grimace and to shake my head in sympathy.
For the rest of the walk, indeed for the rest of the afternoon, I thought about maple syrup and Maine. Economically, it would be horrible for Maine if sap from maple trees could no longer be harvested because spring became too warm too soon. Maine has plenty of economic woes without having another one to add to the list. But there would be another loss to contend with—a cultural loss—which would be nearly as bad. Maine and maple syrup go together like Georgia and peaches and Florida and oranges. It’s almost impossible to conceive of Maine without maple syrup.
Ever since I was young child, early spring in Maine has meant the tapping of maple trees and the wonderful sweet syrup that comes from boiling down the sap. Until I was eight years old, I lived in Waterville, Maine, a small mill city on the banks of the Kennebec River, which ran dark and dirty in those days. We lived in a tight neighborhood where the houses were close and the yards were small. But in that neighborhood there were maple trees, and some of those trees were tapped. One spring day when I was about six, and I was walking home from school with a group of girls, a neighbor let us have a taste of syrup he had made recently. Readers, I was smitten, totally smitten by the sweet, intense taste of real maple syrup. This was the early 1960s, and unfortunately my family was an Aunt Jemima family. But with that one taste, the scales fell from my eyes, so to speak, and I immediately understood that there was true maple syrup and that there was false maple syrup. The difference was so startling that even my six-year-old palate could tell the difference.
Will I live long enough to see the demise of maple syrup in Maine? Perhaps not. But if this trend continues, then there is a good chance my children will.
What a thought!