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  • Writer's pictureIan A. Dunn

The sun is shining, and it is a very hot day; somewhere around ninety. Yesterday, we had the wood stove going. But, in spite of the fluctuating temperatures, Spring has certainly come now, the trees all have young, green leaves, the birds are calling, the grass is growing, and the pollen is covering the vehicles.

At the end of Winter, we decided to buy some kayaks, so we went to the store to look at them, there was a certain model we were after but they didn’t have many at the store only one for display. We did some shopping around, and finally decided on The kayak. Well, wouldn't you know, they had sold out everywhere. You wouldn’t think kayaks would be such a big thing during the pandemic, but it appears this is the case. Maybe with people being out of work, they are trying out new things, and doing more ‘out of doors’.

Whatever the case, we ordered two kayaks and two paddles online, not knowing the former were sold out. So, we waited and waited … to quote Dylan, “There's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend”... It was quite the wait. Eventually, one of them showed up, and we brought it home. Even though the other hadn’t come yet, we decided to take it out on the water anyway.

In our town, there are two mountains, the North and South Uncanoonucs. They are low peaks, a bit over thirteen hundred feet, but are still a nice feature to the landscape, and you can see them clearly when you come into town down Route 114 near the cemetery. At the base of one of these is the Uncanoonuc Lake, a 23-acre body of water, which is fairly shallow. That was our destination, so we loaded the kayak onto Webster, my 4Runner, and set off for the lake.

The north and south Uncanoonuc Mountains Goffstown NH

It is only 5 minutes from home. Supposedly we had went ice fishing here when I was little, but I don’t remember it, so it may as well have been my first time on this water. Around it are dirt roads and hiking trails, and the mountain rises up above the lake.

We put the kayak in the water, and I strapped on the life preserver. I set off from the bank, and made an unsteady path through the water. It was a bit of work to go straight, and to remember which paddling techniques to use when, but I was out and moving across the lake. The kayak is designed for fishing, so it is wide and stable, not overly fast, and leaves a wide wake across the water.

Out on the water, I saw old water logged tree stumps, and large boulders sticking up through the surface, making granite ‘islands’. On one, I saw the remains of someone’s fire. A little over a hundred feet from shore, there is an actual island, albeit small it did host trees, shrubs and nesting birds.

kayaking on Uncanoonuc Lake

When we decided to leave, I disembarked from the kayak and we reloaded it on top of the roof. We headed for home, and even though it was getting dark, I drove home the long way, over the roads which go in a more round-about path, up closer to the Mountain.

So that was the first time in a kayak, and the ‘first’ time in Uncanoonuc Lake. Of course, the kayaking will be better, whenever Dad gets his…but it was still an enjoyable time, right here in our own home town!

~Ian Dunn

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  • Writer's pictureIan A. Dunn

The alarm rings. We are going to be leaving in just over an hour. Now mornings aren’t really my favorite thing, so I won’t mention anything about jumping out of bed immediately…that would be a lie. Nevertheless, I do get dressed and sit down for breakfast. Of course, our cats need to share breakfast, they always do.

We gather what we need and take the lunch box, and set off. Today, we are going to the sawmill and the kiln. The sawmill is where the operator (the sawyer) takes whole logs and saws them into boards. The kiln is where the still fresh and green boards are dried and the pitch is set and, so bacteria is killed and the lumber is more stable. The kiln operator also saws boards, but we are not getting any from him today.

We are out of the house and heading down the road. We will get a larger quantity of wood, because we buy enough for many jobs into the future: wood for table tops, for legs. We don’t go out and buy framing material to make our furniture; a lot of our material is custom sawn by local sawyers (remember, those are the sawmill operators). Today, we are going to pick up some pine, and some black locust, and later he will saw out some beech boards that I asked for, for my own work. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to saw them, so we will have to come back later. It is an hour-long drive through towns, over back roads, bouncing over potholes and driving down tight ways. We are heading generally to the north, finally pulling onto the remote dirt road. Together his sons and I load the wood. The thick pine has been set in a pile and the sawyer trims them to length while we are there. The black locust is stout stuff, and there is a fair amount of it. Later, the sawyer will saw more locust, but for now, we load up what he has. We also find out that the beech had just been sawn that morning before we arrived. We load that in as well.

After all the wood is in, we say farewell and set off for the kiln. The back roads were made before GPS devices, so don’t trust them all the time. We end up down the end of a dirt road, with the remains of the rest of it disappearing into the forest. Apparently, it was closed down in the 40’s, so the woods have had time to reclaim the land. We back track, and at last we have meandered our way to the kiln.

Here, the kiln operator shows us where he wants our wood, and we unload what will be staying. It will go into the kiln in a day or so. Then, he brings us out back, and we see some white oak logs that he will be milling up, one of which will be turned into boards we will be taking for a client’s table. After seeing this, the operator also shows us some of his other wood, and mentions ideas he has as his own business grows. will go into the kiln in a day or so. Then, he brings us out back, and we see some white oak logs that he will be milling up, one of which will be turned into boards we will be taking for a client’s table. After seeing this, the operator also shows us some of his other wood, and mentions ideas he has as his own business grows.

Our wood dropped off, we head for home, where we organize, rough cut, and stack the rest of the lumber we just picked up…to be turned into useful things in the future. A day in the life of a Yankee Woodworker!

--Ian Dunn

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  • Writer's pictureIan A. Dunn

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

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

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