Our end syrup yield this year will be okay. Not great, not terrible. With hopefully one more boil in our future this week, we'll end up somewhere just a little over four gallons of maple syrup. That's with forty-something taps in, and three solid boil days. Not to mention the everyday walking around and hauling of sap buckets from woods to barn (where we store it in fifty gallon storage drums until boiling days) and back again (remember, it's forty gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup). And certainly that doesn't include the days spent hauling firewood from the snowy woods and splitting and stacking it to keep the evaporator going.
I will confess that there has been a moment or two, looking at just how fast that maple syrup goes flying off my pantry shelves (a whole lot faster than it went on), and precisely how much time this activity has consumed of our days, when I've wondered if it's worth it. Surely, if we're talking about straight dollars and cents, and accounting for the realistic amount of time it all takes, the answer would be a clear and definitive "no way, lady...go buy it at the grocery store."
And this question...this question 'is it worth it?" is one that we sometimes ask ourselves about all kinds of things going on around this new little farmstead of ours. Switching to heritage breed turkeys, only to watch them grow so slowly that by Thanksgiving the biggest amongst them was a mere nine pounds, and by Valentine's Day only three pounds more. Or, when our scraps aren't enough for the pigs, staying diligent in buying organic hog grain with its rising price that in the end makes the 'true cost' of raising them seriously questionable. Sometimes the answer is to change what we're doing or stop it altogether, and sometimes, the question just helps us reframe our priority and goals to where they belong for us.
Yesterday was another boil day. Harper, with full knowledge now of which trees are maple and which are not, checked the taps and emptied the buckets with his Papa just as he's done at dusk everyday for the nearly three weeks now. Adelaide brought the enamel cups in the basket we bring outside and doled out the sap to all who wanted it, knowing by the color at various stages just how sweet it might taste. Ezra and Calvin stayed warm by the evaporator all day long and planned what they'd make for breakfast tomorrow to fully enjoy this new syrup. Annabel bopped from one leftover cup of someones sap to another, insisting on using the ladle herself in the buckets of cold fresh sap, and pulling the sled when she thought it was time to gather the new buckets. By the evaporator yesterday, there was spoon carving, baseball throwing, knitting by hands big and little, a jump start made on next winter's firewood, a new tree house begun, songs sung, stories told, and well...our life lived.
Later last night - much later - with most everyone asleep inside, Steve and I found ourselves back out there by headlamp, waiting and watching it carefully to reach the point at which we bring it in for finishing off on the stove inside. Away from the distraction of a house that needed cleaning and work that needed tending, we sat together under the light of a nearly full moon and a clear crisp sky. It was cold, but the most deliciously smelling woodfire and maple steam was enough to keep us out there a little bit longer even than we needed to be - enjoying the silence and the peace at the end of a full and good day.
There were no words needed in that moment for the answer to the questions we've been asking ourselves in recent days. Of course, we'll tap again next year.