As I pulled into the driveway last night, I caught two interesting objects in my headlights. One was my dog Oli, chewing a stick twice his size while on a walk with Elise. The other was a plastic gallon jug that clung to the trunk of our neighbor's maple. If you're from New England, you probably know what that means: syrup season.
Turns out that our neighbor, a retired engineer, started tapping all the sugar maples on the block about two years ago. When I inquired about the presence of the many floating milk jugs, he gave me a tour of the trees and explained the process, which he kept describing as "really easy" and "so simple!"
Though legally blind, he can still make out the sugar maples by their bark. He drills two to three inches into them, inserts a short metal tube, and sticks a milk jug on it. The sap flows when you've got freezing nights and warm days, and on a good day he might get a gallon of sap from a single tree. Of course this has be cooked down to about one fortieth its volume, but the (clean) plastic trash can in which he stores the sap already has about 30 gallons in it, and the season has just begun.
When I came home last night, I was hot, tired and cranky after an eight hour cooking shift. I parked the car, saw the jug on the tree, and didn't think twice. I walked over to the maple, lifted the jug off the tap, and took a swig. The tree filtered sap tasted like the cleanest water I'd ever had, with an unmistakable maple flavor. It was ice cold, it was delicious, and it was straight out of the tree.
Of course that's one-fortieth of a mouthful of syrup we won't get, but it was worth it.