Sugar Hunting

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Once a year my family would make a trek way way up into a rural part of Massachusetts to go Sugar Hunting. A peculiar name it may seem, it made complete sense to me when I dubbed it this at the age of four. It consisted of a visit to family friends and then an outing together to a local sugar house. I can remember the car ride up so vividly. We took all back roads…no highways. I felt almost removed from society for that one day a year. The roads twisted and turned. There were sections where pine trees were so dense you couldn’t see the light. Purple and blue mountains glistening in the sunlight seemed to jut up almost randomly with every twist and turn the road took. Little farm houses with their chimney ablaze were scattered all over the country side. I remember looking at their roofs littered with silver antennas and satellite dishes understanding then, that I was truly in the middle of nowhere.

After a three and half hour drive we would arrive at our old friend’s house. Their two, white, plump, fluffy huskies always greeted us at the door. The sight of those two dogs always conjured images of marshmallows in my mind for some reason. These thoughts would quickly subside though; there were many other things for me to get distracted by in the small, old, cluttered, antique house. I can remember one winter where I was particularly fascinated by the houses low tin ceiling. Looking up from a young, vantage point, the age of the ceiling was apparent, parts were dented and the once white paint was peeling in some places. The pattern on the tin could still be seen clearly though. It was fluid and circular like falling snow blowing in the wind. I traced that pattern with my eyes for a long time, finally finding a new distraction to steal my attention away.

After cordial greetings we would all sit and talk by the woodstove, a welcome retreat from the cold outdoors. Time would pass and we would all finally decide it was time to go Sugar Hunting. After another, much shorter, but equally as beautiful ride we would arrive at our final destination, Gray’s Sugar House. It was tucked back in the woods, but the whole world seemed to know about it. There was almost always at least a one hour wait to get in the door. It seemed like everyone was there fulfilling a tradition just as we were. I can remember many cold winters standing in that line waiting and waiting. For most people this would be considered a very frustrating inconvenience but I always considered this wait a part of the experience. We would all talk and catch up, a worthy reason in itself to wait in line. I can remember one year in particular where there was absolutely no line. I felt lost and upset. How could there possibly be no line at all! But the next year there was, tradition had returned and so had my comfort.

Entering into the aged rickety wooden building was quite the experience. On one side there was the maple syrup room, with vats of the delicious substance steaming away. I can remember many times feeling heat penetrating the old bubbled glass as I peaked through the window and watched the men toiling over the precious maple syrup that I would later put in my mouth.

The rest of the building consisted of rows of wooden tables and tree stumps with red vinyl covers for seats. The tables were long, running the whole width of the room. Everyone sat together. There was such an air of camaraderie in there like nothing I’ve experienced since. We would sit and talk and order delicious food that always had something to do with maple syrup. My favorite part was at the end of the meal. I would always get sugar on snow. The process made it quite a unique treat. A big metal bowl full of pure white fluffy snow harvested from the outdoors was placed in front of me. Then a steaming cup of maple syrup was poured directly on top in a big swirling pattern. The interaction between the cold and the hot made the maple syrup instantly turned into taffy like pieces, golden, carmel, gooey and delicious. It was my very favorite. I’ve tried effortlessly to recreate this delicious treat when Connecticut receives its few snow storms a year. I would carefully harvest the top layer of freshly fallen snow from the ground and place it in a metal bowl just as I had seen in our yearly visits to the sugar house. I then, would heat up maple syrup on the stove and wait impatiently for it to reach the proper consistency. When the time came I would pour the steaming maple syrup on top of the pure white snow. Nothing would happen though. I ended up with an auburn colored slush every time, not appetizing at all. Although this was disappointing it made those once yearly trips even more meaningful and magical to me.

At the end of each trip to the sugar house we would always have a sort of photo shoot on the little rickety wooden bridge running over a trickling stream right next store. The surroundings were beautiful, pine trees and snow enveloped us in that little spot. I can see those yearly pictures scattered all over my disorganized house. Sadly Gray’s closed about four years ago. When the time of year for Sugar Hunting rolls around I usually find myself sad and melancholy. I miss those trips desperately.





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beardedhippie said...
Sept. 4, 2008 at 2:57 pm
Fantastic. This is amazingly fantastic writing. It makes me proud to see and read.
 
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