Sappy Days




... and you thought watching paint dry was boring.

Three seasons of the year, New Hampshire is a lovely place to visit. Our brochures proudly display pictures of splendid fall foliage, views of Mount Washington covered in snow and kids jumping into a sparkling clear lake.

But, just as the brochures fail to highlight wind chill or mosquitoes, neither do they show any pictures of spring. That's because spring's claims to fame are maple syrup production and mud.

When you go to a syrup house you are going to watch sap boil. That's it. Sure, you may appreciate the aroma, but the most action you'll witness involves some guy who walks around checking thermometers, fiddling with valves and looking pensively at the big trays. He's probably not really accomplishing anything. In fact, I'm convinced that some of those valves are fake, but how else are you going to make watching sap boil exciting?

A typical tourist's interaction with a sugarer would go like this:

"What's that stuff in the tank?"

"Sap."

"What about that big tray over there?"

"Sap."

"How about those plastic buckets outside?"

"Sap."

I suppose it's fortunate that maple syrup is made during mud season. What else is there to do in New Hampshire in March if you don't like skiing on slush or watching college basketball? If you don't ski, I guess it makes sense that those balmy 42-degree days draw you outside to do something. ANYthing!

My husband and I have taken our kids to two sap houses. We found the first advertised in the special "Maple Syrup" section of the paper. The description sounded enticing: hay rides, sugar on snow, a gift shop. We visited on a raw Saturday, bundling up the kids for their first hayride.

It started pouring. We were the only ones in the wagon, and I swear the horse was glaring at us for making him go out. There wasn't enough snow left that year to have sugar on snow, and the kids were less than thrilled when we took them into the tiny sap house. It was about the size of a bathroom - a bathroom from the 1940s, not like today's bathrooms that could sleep a family of four. The kids were too short to actually see the sap, so our tour lasted less than two minutes.

The second sugarhouse we visited belonged to my uncle, who at the time was in his 80s. The building was small and dark, and he smoked a cigar. Not only were the kids scared, but they tactfully pulled their turtlenecks over their noses and kept pulling us toward the door. So much for the aroma.

In my dreams I pictured a pristine building made of pine trees cut and dragged by workhorses. These same horses would be tied to a railing outside, and there'd be a path from the parking area covered in fresh wood chips - not mud. Next to the shiny stainless steel equipment would be stepstools for kids to see into the tanks, and brightly dressed people would hand out maple sugar samples in case they weren't mesmerized by the boiling liquid.

I mean no offense. Perhaps it's just my short attention span, as I am equally unimpressed by other high-action activities like fishing and bird watching.

It is reassuring, I guess, that in this fast-paced I-want-it-NOW world, syruping is not something you can rush. By the time the taps are set, the lines are run, the sap is collected and the boiling process is done, weeks have passed.

Plus, it explains why a gallon of the stuff costs so much. NH

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