Winter came early, like a guest too eager, and has stayed without respite… more snow, lower sustained temperatures, and no two- or three-day thaw since late November. In fact the total span of above-freezing temperatures can be more easily measured in hours than days. It’s not all bad. The Great Lakes anticipate a really big gulp from the Spring freshet. Already their levels have risen to near normal and above in many cases… and because their ice cover is larger than it has been for many years, they haven’t lost as much to the lake effect snow machine as in past years.
Now it’s Spring, and Winter Still Won’t Leave.
We keep looking at the calendar and standing up, in anticipation of showing the cold the door but it’s not paying attention, blathering on with cold winds and snow drifts, polar vortexes and closed highways. Snow drifts by the side of the road are still three and four meters high. Rivers are still solid ice. But the sun is doing its best. Now there’s more light than dark in a day. Beside the roads, below the drifts, there are puddles and occasional wisps of steam where the sun has warmed the asphalt and melted the snow.
Also the robins are back. At least one is. I know that people have been reporting robin sightings for weeks now, but I saw my first for 2014 yesterday… along Station Street in Waldemar (just east of Grand Valley). It was on the shoulder of the road, and must have been trying to remember the last line of that old saw about the early bird… no worm this year, just a frozen tail.
This one had its back to me and dashed off without turning around but it is definitely a robin.
Maple trees are also showing signs of life. The ice storm just before Christmas wreaked havoc (Incidentally, I typed “wrought” before “wreaked” but looked it up. Wrought is the archaic past tense of “work” – as in “wrought – or worked – iron”. So while it’s not incorrect to say “wrought” havoc, “wreaked” is what i meant).
Back to the maples. The weight of the ice brought down thousands of trees and broke many more branches, large and small. The broken branches on the maple trees, are showing that the sun’s warmth is penetrating the ice and snow and digging deep into the earth, stirring the roots.
Well, OK, maybe it’s not. That sounds nice but it’s the daytime/nighttime alternating expansion and contraction of the trees above ground that draws the sap. When it gets to the broken ends of the branches, it forms icicles – sapsicles – and I can’t help but think that it was one of these that inspired whoever it was to make maple syrup.
This tree is just north of 5 and 5 – on the 5th line north of number 5 side road north and east of Orangeville. You can see a bunch of sapsicles on the small branches to the left, and one very large one in front of one of the main branches to the right. Here’s another tree on the same line:
The sapsicle is very large but unfortunately out of reach. But next time you see one that you can reach, break it off and taste. There’s an interesting atmospheric dustiness at first but then a unmistakeable sweetness. A few years ago, the father of a friend of ours had the fire blazing in the sugar shack and the evaporator full of sap. We had tea made with the hot sap. That’s a treat the rivals the maple toffee made by pouring hot syrup onto the snow, where it turns to sticky toffee.
Maple syrup producers in the Hills of Headwaters have been hard at work for a while now… drilling holes and setting spiles running the lines between the bush and the sugar shack. After the winter we’ve endured sugaring off is as welcome as the smell of lilacs that’ll come later. We sure make the most of it.
The Maple Syrup Festival at Island Lake Conservation area is going on this weekend.
The Headwaters Taste of Maple starts March 28 and runs through April 13 at various locations throughout the Headwaters Region. There are breakfasts, cooking classes, maple themed art, and many other offerings. You can even share your favourite maple recipe here.
Obviously there are also many producers throughout the hills who offer farm gate sales, and stock the shelves in local stores.
Look at the names on the maple syrup bottles to make sure you’re buying from someone down the road. Or call the producers directly to see what’s available. Some producers allow a guests to check out the process. Just be sure you’re welcome and that the sap is running. And next time you see an icicle on the end of a broken maple twig, have a taste and you’ll know how this process started so many years ago.
Some Local Producers
John & Nancy Kidd, Kidd Farms, 438162 4th Line, Melancthon, 519 925-6453
Bill & Wendy Masters, Knollbrook Farms, 142239 Dufferin County Road 5, Grand Valley, 519 928-3354
Clare Booker & Jay Mowat, Willow Creek Farm, Erin, 519 362-3383
Putney Heath, Caledon East, 519 584-9328