Sawin’ & Sugarin’

Now that Gene’s retired, he’s been looking for things to do outside the house. Mostly to escape the 9-page list I’ve given him of what needs to do be done around here, like building window perches in every room for the cats (reinforced for Chunk, of course). A few weeks ago, he started helping our friends out by peeling the bark off of logs they cut with their sawmill. The second time he did it, he called asking me to bring him his hiking boots, since his muck boots were too hot. I took one look at the draw knife, the partially peeled logs, and the huge pile of bark shavings and wanted in.

Good pay, exercise, AND you can make a mess? Heaven. Even better, it doesn’t hurt my hands because I can do it without bending my wrists. I hold the draw knife steady, then just lean back and let my body weight do the work. Let’s just say there’s a lot of power generated when I lean back. Not to brag, but it’s like someone turned on a wood chipper. The only downside was discovering the hard way that I’m allergic to pine. Snuffling, snorting, eyes-swelled-shut allergic to pine.

Being the stubborn sort, I wasn’t about to let a pesky allergy get in the way of something I love to do. Gene took me to the hardware store and I equipped myself with nerd goggles (safety first!), plastic gloves, and a mask. The next time we did it, I popped two Claritins, then donned my gear.

Not so much as a sneeze. Of course, I could barely breathe, and I sounded like Darth Vader moonlighting as a lumberjack. Gene has since bought me a respirator-style face mask that makes getting fresh air much easier. I’d post a picture, but the folks over at Lumberjack Vogue said I couldn’t spoil the May cover.

But finding a new career option isn’t even the coolest thing I’ve been up to. Gene and I have been making our own maple syrup!!! Our friends let us check the taps in some maple trees on their property, and keep what we found. Can I just say that A) maple sap looks and tastes NOTHING like maple syrup and B) bugs. Moths love them some maple sap. So many floaters.

It also takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, and we just had 4 or 5 gallons of sap to start with. So we spent about 8 hours patiently straining, boiling, and minding the sap, only to end up with 1 pint of syrup. Totally worth it. I could have “taste tested” the entire batch, but Gene made me quit dipping my spoon in even when I told him it was strictly for quality control.

Gene started the batch off outside, in a large pan on the propane camp stove. Because you’re evaporating such a huge quantity of water, if you do it inside you end up with walls that are coated in sticky residue. Since the Northland is plagued by flies when the ground isn’t frozen, the last thing I want is sticky walls. That would be like living in a giant fly trap. Shudder. I can’t even.

So anyway, we decided to only bring the syrup inside when it’s close to ready to being finished. We started fairly late at night, so Gene ended up being out there around midnight, watching the Northern lights and making sure the sugar didn’t burn. Turns out wolves like maple syrup too, because pretty soon they started howling from about 100 yards away. When Ceri started growling, he decided it was probably time to come back in the house.

We finished cooking it the next day, and it turned out amazing. I really hope we’ve got some maple trees on our property, because a pint isn’t going to last long around here.

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