Sugar bush


I know I have written about going to the sugar bush quite a few times over the last few years, but too bad, I am doing it again. I want to let people know about it, the ones who can’t go to the sugar bush because of jobs, a judge, or they don’t have access to maple trees. It is a big event in my life so I write about it.

I like the way the sugar bush brings the family together. I like the smell of wood smoke; I also like seeing the woods thaw, smell those smells. I like the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, that bird we only hear at sugar bush time. I like hearing the stories told around the fire. Okay, okay, I tell a few stories myself.

We began to prepare for sugar bush last year as we were putting things away from our sugar bush. We recycled our milk jugs we used. We rinsed them in a bleach water mixture and dried them in the sun. Once they were dry we put them in large plastic bags and sealed and hung them under the deck… 

Last fall we buried the cast iron boiling kettle in the ground, about three inches of cast iron kettle was sticking up out of the ground. We tamped the earth around the kettle so it was packed tight. We were making the right sized fire pit. All we had to do was lift the kettle out from the ground to the right height to boil, had a good pit underneath.

We dried the taps in the sun and put them in the leather pack. I made a few replacements by cutting a maple stick; I brought it home and cut it into the proper lengths. I drilled a hole in the center using my traditional Dewalt 18V cordless drill. I then carved the tapered end. I carved a notch to hold the milk jug and I was done with one tap.

We took the jugs and taps to the woods. This sugar bush location was different than the woods we used last year. I like to rotate the location every year. I do it because my grampa did it that way. We used the electric cordless drill to make the holes in the trees. The snow was midcalf deep. We drill a foot or so above the snow at a slight upward angle. We don’t go in very far in, an inch or so is enough. 

This year my son Joe and nephew Kris was the tapping crew. Kris would drill the holes after he looked at the tree to make sure it wasn’t a basswood or oak. Some trees had leaves on them from last fall. Those two would look at that leaf and say Canada. Joe would clean the shavings from the hole and insert a tap that he tap-tapped in with a Buck knife. One of us placed a jug on the tap and we could hear the plunk-plunk sound of falling sap. When I heard that sound I could smell the wood smoke and taste the syrup already.

We drilled some one day and came back the next and drilled more until we ran out of jugs and taps. Then we settled back and waited for the maple trees to do their part. The crew went to gather the sap. We used five gallon buckets and barrels to hold our gift.

We brought the sap home and unloaded what we had. I like to boil when I have 100 gallons of sap. Larry and Vickie Ellis came to help with the boiling. I built the fire and once we had a bed of red coals we moved the kettle over the fire. We used sticks of firewood around the kettle to keep the heat in the pit. Larry and I added wood or sap as needed. At the end of the day we had 2.5 gallons of syrup. We brought it inside where my wife Patricia further boiled and filtered our gift. She set some aside to make sugar cakes and canned the little jars that hold the results of our first boil. 

The next day we gathered sap and prepared for our next boil. Two of my grandchildren came to help. Mii gwech Sarice and Joseph. We had a feast and prepared a manido miijim (spirit dish). We invited friends to come and eat and laugh. Sugar bush is just beginning. Can Corvette season be next? You betcha.

**** Planning for the 2nd Annual Fond du Lac’s Ojibwe language camp has been ongoing. The dates are June 24, 25, 26, 27 for our camp here in Sawyer, Minnesota. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Ambe Anishinaabemodaa.