Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sharing The Experience

For those of you who, on your own MooseBoots trail, do not have maple trees or simply do not tap them, I thought I would share some of the experience with you.  My set-up is very basic, but it seems to do the job.  We have been able to make enough syrup for our family for the last 2 years.  We've been asked this year if we want to sell some ... we'll see, it is a lot of work.

First, you gather the sap.  It has been a bit slow over the last day or so, but with 15 taps there is always plenty.  I do have a few that run like the dickens ... the others not so much.  There is really nothing so satisfying as emptying the buckets and then hearing this.

I pour the sap into a 55 gallon barrel for storage until I am ready to boil.  This acts as both storage and helpd keep the sap viable ... the more mass the longer it takes to warm up and so the sap does not go bad.  It also keeps any further bugs and debris out of the sap.

I purchased a large roasting pan a few years ago.  This is my primary evaporator pan.  I build a fire under it and try to get, and keep, the sap boiling.  I have learned that you can not add cold sap and accomplish this with any level of success.  So, this year, I have started pre-heating my sap.  You can see, from the picture below, that I have several pans going over/near two fires.  This allows me to maximize the surface area ... evaporation is all about surface area and pre-heat new sap.

I will warn you, if you try this on your own, that this is the step that takes so much time.  My set-up will boil off an average of 2.5 gallons of water per hour (including the heat up time).  So longer boils work better and should improve on the boiling rate.  It took about 7 hours to make a quart of syrup last night.  I am always overzealous and take the stuff out of the big pan and bring it into the house to finish it too early.  What takes 2.5 hours in the house should take 0.5 hour in the big pan over the fire.  All of this said, I find it relaxing to feed the fire and sit quietly as the sun sets and listen to the sounds of spring ... no, the peepers are not singing yet.

This year, we know of three more families that are tapping their trees for the first time.  Two of the families live in the rural suburbs, but ... the last lives in the middle of a small city.  Perhaps, this is in some small part from our example.  While this MooseBoots journey is about me learning old skills and wisdom, it is satifying to know that I am passing it along and helping to change the world for the better, even when I don't know that I am.  I am grateful for these gifts from the trees and from our ancestors.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Signs of Spring!

The taps are finally running.  The snow is quickly melting, exposing the lush full scents of healthy earth (spelled here M...U...D...).  The animals are waking up and getting active.  Flocks of birds are returning ... cow-birds, geese, ducks ... singing their "We're home songs!"  I am eager to follow this MooseBoots path back into the woods and see what is growing.

Other signs are the dance competition seasons frenzied pace and confirmation of ... the 6th Annual Maine Knap-In on April 17th at the University of Southern Maine.  Last year, we had a blast!  There is so much to do, see, and learn.  If you live close, I recommend stopping by.  If not, you might consider it anyway.  Here is a link where I am assured they will be posting information.

I do look forward to boiling more sap down this weekend.  So far, we have been able to harvest 2 quarts of syrup.  One pint was done on the stove in the house, the rest outside.  You can really see the difference.  I will also be trying the freezing method I have read about.

It is shaping up to be a beautiful Spring.  My favorite signs are emerging, even down to the steak cooking over an open fire.  I enjoy hearing you favorite signs or recent observations.

And so, my MooseBoots journey starts another turn.  Happy Equinox!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Other Side Of Awareness

So, if you have been following along on my MooseBoots journey, you know that I have been working on developing my middling awareness.  I try to be observant.  I try to puzzle things out.  But, I found today that there is a side of awareness that I hadn't really focused on, at least consciously.  The awareness of what I am putting out into the Universe.  What behaviours am I demonstrating?

We've all heard that things happen in threes.  Perhaps, this is a reference to the pagan Three-Fold Law.  The law states that what you do comes back to you three-fold.  If you do good things, you are rewarded three times.  If you are unkind, that will likewise be returned three times.  This winter, as an illustration of this point, we did not put up enough wood to heat our home for the whole winter.  We put up four cords.  Last year, we put up four cords, but we had two cords left from the previous year.  Coupled with the fact that last year was mild, we severely underestimated our need for this year.  There was no need to panic, however, as the neighbors were watching our dwindle wood pile and had, and offered, sufficient stores to keep both houses warm.

The neighbors started talking about burning wood for heat a couple of years ago.  They watched us work gathering wood, splitting wood, and stacking wood. They heard us talk about having heat when the power went out.  They bought several cords of wood when we bought our last two years ago.  The intended to buy their stove that same year, but....  This year, they got their stove.  They've been burning and heating, sometimes to uncomfortably high temperatures, if open doors and windows on mid-winter's days are any indication.

They have experienced first hand the joy of wood heat and the requisite amount of work to make it possible.  They are older, nearing retirement, and we help wen they need it (probably more often than they like).  But, they also see the benefit in a fiscal sense.  We have been told several times that in a normal winter they used 1000 gallons of heating oil.  This year, in contrast, they have used less than 300.  With oil prices where they are, this is a significant cost savings.  Of course, as more people switch, wood prices will go up for those buying.  Perhaps it will become more difficult for us to get free firewood.  Regardless, I think that we modeled what we consider appropriate behaviour and then, someone followed.  We did not try to convince them to do as we did, we just did what we do.

The second experience occurred today.  I brought a couple of books, Nature's Way and Wild Plants of Maine, to the dance school  for the wait.  I got busy helping out with a laptop and put the books on a table.  One of the other dancers asked her Mom about the cover of Wild Plants of Maine.  The gist of the question was something like wanting to look at the book.  I turned around and said that they could look at it, if they'd like.  The Mom picked it up and thumbed through it carefully.  After which point, she put it down and said to me, "I had no idea there were so many edible plants around."  I picked this book up after spying it in a bookstore while waiting for Wendy.  I probably did not need another wild edibles book.  I suggested to this woman that this book was the tip of the iceberg and recommended The Forager's Harvest and Nature's Garden, both by Sam Thayer.  This was clearly another example of modelling behaviour.  Whether she does anything with the knowledge, today or twenty years from now, is her choice.

Wendy's forthcoming Surviving The Apocalypse In The Suburbs is simply an extension of this.  We are simply trying to simplify our lives.  Most of the things in the book are things we have tried to cut our expenses and our footprint on the planet.  Someone else decided that is was worthy enough of note to publish.  But, it illustrates, as do the other examples, of changing the world simply by being true to yourself.

This is what we all know and strive to do with our children.  Soldiers know it - lead from the front, be a role model.  It is how we teach, by demonstration.  It is how animals learn in nature.  So, as I continue down my MooseBoots path, I will try to be mindful not only of the things happening around me, but of my actions and attitudes, my creative outgoing energy.  I am not always successful, but that is why it is a path and not a state of being.  I am grateful for all that the Universe has provided, opportunities, teachings, needs satisfied, wants fulfilled, joy and peace.

So, I ask you.  What are you modelling?  What are you "putting out there"?  Who is being reflected back as you look into the surface our you pond?   Are you "doing unto others" as you want done to you?  Are you paying attention?  We create our world and our experience, why not make it a joyful one?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nature Deficit and Zombie Intuition

This weekend, I was blessed with a trip to Springfield, MA for a dance competition with the girls and their dance team.  Cities, even small ones, are not my favorite places, as you might imagine.  While there, I had the opportunity one evening to walk to a nearby pizza place.  I was struck as I walked by a city bus station by the piped in sound of birds.  I assume it was piped in, becuase I could not find the source of the song, in spite of looking around.
I have started reading Nature's Way.  This book with definitely require a second, and maybe third, reading.  The lessons are so simple and yet so deep.  The second chapter discusses the need for a connection to nature for learning life lessons.  With this echoing in my head, I started noticing things in this urban setting.  First, I remembered the bird sounds.  Why would anyone pipe in bird sounds into a city park?  What purpose does it serve?  Obviously, my logical mind was struggling with this.  Perhaps, there is a more profound reason ... something deeply seated in all of us.  Something that touches us all on some deep intuitive level.

Later, while loading all of our stuff into the car, I stopped to look at the pictures on the walls of the lobby.  Something struck me.  All of the pictures were taken in nature, autumn leaves, trees through several seasons, natural settings and scenes ... nothing man-made.  They were lovely. 

Then, as I helped the director load her car, I noticed a display.  On one of the walls, cubby holes had been built.  In several of them, a cut of tree had been placed.  I had to touch the trees ... to connect.

What purpose could these serve?  Why these?  Why not Dr. Seuss, a native son, scenes?  Then, a light went off.  Perhaps, I thought, our zombie society, our zombie culture, is not unrecoverable.  Maybe, the zombies are a bit less gone and their instinctual, intuitive awareness still lives.  Can we save them, save ourselves?

I walked through the mall to get some drinks to keep the girls from dehydrating during their hours of workshops.  I noted, with some amusement, several empty shops.  I wondered if the hard ecoomic times are driving a resurgence in natural awareness.  Or, is it simply coincidence?  Are we as a society becoming aware as part of a change? Has the 100th monkey become aware and as a society we have recognized the error of our ways ans are making the changes necessary to start living in concert with the Earth.

As I continue on this MooseBoots path, I am often heartened by the fact that some many others seem to be on their own awakening.  I look forward to my growth as a person / spirit.  I look forward to sharing the wisdom I gather.  I also look forward to sharing in the wisdom others have gathered.  Do you have some small piece of wisdom to share?