Updated: Mar 23

The other day, I sat down to write out the first draft of my blog. Here is the first paragraph from it:

‘It is a blue sky out my window, with an occasional cloud; the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing. There’s not really any snow, if any, left to speak of.’

Well. That’s not really the case anymore…in fact, it is now the complete opposite:

It is a gray, overcast sky out my window, with no glimpses of the blue beyond; I don’t see the sun, and the trees are still. The ground has a coating of snow from this morning, and now it’s raining.

Not to dash anyone’s hopes ~ this is Spring.

This is supposedly the end of winter, and the beginning of the new season. It is in this season that the plants and the trees begin another year, and soon the leaves will be out. But before the leaves, there are buds, and before the buds there is sap. Sap is the life of the tree, stored for the winter in its roots. As the days get warmer, the sap rises through the trunk up to the branches, and life begins. Now, those of you who know, are probably guessing where I am going, as you know about maple syrup…but maple trees are not the only trees that produce this edible sap—some other trees that do are the English Walnut, Black Walnut, and Birch.

But for now we are concerned with the sap of Maple trees. It is in this time frame that maple syrup makers ‘tap’ the trees. My grandfather, The Old Man, is one of these producers, he puts out around 600 taps per year.

So, sometime in February or March, a bunch of the family gets together, and we all go off in the pickup truck, armed with buckets, spiles, drills, and hammers. We arrive at old houses around town, and holes are drilled in the maple trees. The sap is already flowing, and often is dripping down the tree bark from the hole before the spile is put in. The spile is basically a metal tube that is pounded into the tree with the hammer, and then a bucket is hung on it. Now, the sap drips into the bucket. Next, a cover is put over the bucket to keep out the rain and leaves (and snow).

Once enough sap is collected in the bucket, normally in a day, you head out with a large gathering tank in the bed of the pickup and a handful of gatherers (usually enough to fill two vehicles) and head out to ‘collect’. Trudging along from tree to tree with a gathering-pail in either hand, emptying sap from the buckets on the trees, and bringing it back and pouring it into the tank on the truck. Once all of the buckets have been emptied, the sap is brought back to the sugar house.

Inside the sugar house is the evaporator. This is a large metal pan, sitting over the ‘arch’, which is like a big wood-stove.

In this, the sap is boiled, which evaporates the water, increasing the percentage of natural sugar found in the sap. Once the sap has been heated and condensed to the right point, it becomes the golden-brown colored maple syrup we all know.

Maple syrup making is an old tradition in northern North America, and New England is no exception. It will be around for a long time, too. And the maple trees we are tapping even now will most likely out live us—someday, some sawyer will saw boards out of those same trees and find that in 2020 the tree was tapped with a 7/16” spile, and sell those boards to a furniture maker as "Tap Hole Maple", and it will be a stamp in history from a group of New Englanders.

~Ian Dunn

Photo credit: The Old Man (Annie Valliancourt)

All other: Ian Dunn

Updated: Mar 23

The snow had fallen the day before, but then rain had come. The snowblower labored through slush, and turned up mud and dug into the ground. The air turned cold at night, and the high temperature the next day was at midnight. In the morning, the snow was a hard crust, and what had melted yesterday was now ice.

Ah, snow removal and winter living is such a waste of time...you spend 8 hours cleaning from a storm, shoveling the walkway, the driveway, down to the woodshed, out to the workshop, and then, once you have all these nice pathways, it snows again. But, on the other hand, snow only falls for three­­­­--or four--months out of the year, and we gladly sacrifice eight hours a day, all year round, to sleeping. So, maybe snow removal in New England is as much a part of life as getting up in the morning (which has its own set of troubles). Okay, maybe I should say as much a part of life as eating, drinking, or working.

And work is also part of life, and a necessary part at that. Work can come in many forms, and here at A Vintage Wren, that means discussing designs with our clients, figuring what materials are needed for each piece, working with our local 'old Yankee' sawyers (with whom you might spend hours at a time as they tell you stories in their thick accents), and creating furniture and furnishings with sustainably harvested woods and solid techniques. And then, when the final coat of finish has been applied, the new owner arrives to take possession, or we deliver it. However, even with all of that time and energy expended, or maybe because of it, the pieces will last at least a lifetime.

Furniture is a part of everyone's life (like snow removal, for us). The table is the center of the family, and ours is no exception--it is here that we have meals, conversation, business meetings, music practice, visitors, it all happens, for the most part, at the table. Is your table the center of your house?

Looking across the road right now, I see our neighbor and his son-in-law, getting into the car. Son-in-law has gotten in the driver's seat, after loading our neighbors walker into the trunk. Our neighbor is old, but at one time he too was a furniture maker, and then in his retirement, a hobbyist woodworker, and now, he is to old to do that, too. But, his work still remains ~ gifts for his family, the large wooden nativity set at his church... A tree is old, but once it is dead, it lives on in peoples daily lives. Maybe they don't even notice. But solid wood, and solid craftsmanship is what makes good furniture. And good furniture is part of what makes a home. And if you love your home, your furniture should be no exception...kind of like a favorite snow shovel, conveniently placed for fast deployment for the next snow squall.

-- Ian Dunn

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