Years ago, I wrote about my Uncle John Wilber handing the reins of his horses, Tom and Dick, to me as we gathered sap in his sugarbush. That year, 1947, I learned I was “hooked on maple.” From that time on I spent countless hours helping Uncle John, Uncle Harry, Grandfather Knight, and my cousin Bob Knight sugar. Millions of gallons of sap, thousands of gallons of syrup, and Father Time have brought me to realize it is time to pass the reins, to hand over the drill, to lay down the firing gloves, and to pass on my maple experiences.
I’m still learning and yes, maple is still my passion, and it always will be but as the saying goes: “Old sugarmakers never die, they just evaporate.” This past season I’ve learned that I cannot continue due to both age and health reasons. Mapletree Farm has been in East Concord since 1975. My family started it as a small backyard operation. For the past 47 years, it has grown and continues to grow. We have watched the planted sugarbush grow to a tappable size and beyond. Many visitors have helped tap the trees and gather sap from them. Others have enjoyed walking the trails and observing the abundant wildlife.
As I’ve aged with Mapletree Farm I have taken great pleasure from sharing its bounty with visitors. Seeing those frequent smiles is such a reward. Children are especially fun here and I wish I could adequately transfer to them my childhood memories of what sugaring was like when I was growing up. We gathered sap buckets by hand (often with yokes on our shoulders) and used horse-drawn sleds to hold the sap tank. The sugarhouses had no electricity or running water. It was hard work.
Even with modern conveniences, it’s still hard work, but not as hard as it was back then. There are a few sap buckets here at Mapletree Farm. Yes, you can still catch sap dripping into those buckets, but now you mostly watch sap flow through miles of sap tubing. The efficient wood-fired evaporator we have now makes twice as much syrup per hour as the one I fired as a teenager that was one and a half times larger.
Change is inevitable, as is aging, so I’ve thrown the last wood into the evaporator and laid down the firing gloves. I’ll switch to the training and educational part of sugaring. Yes, I expect to be at Mapletree Farm for a few more years but not responsible for much of the work. There will be younger and more energetic blood running the farm next year. The transition may start as early as this coming July. I am excited since there will be changes made that I could only dream about. I’ll be here to help in the transition but not doing all the work. A nice change. An inevitable change. The old saying of “Maple is in my blood” is true. That happened 75 years ago when Uncle John handed me the reins. I learned way back then and I’m still learning.
I made some great syrup this past production season. Stop by for your maple needs. I’ll still be here often. At my age, it will take me time to pass on the tips and experiences of making good maple products.
Dean aka The Old Man of Mapletree Farm