I walked into the intimate, mystical confines of Fisher’s sugar house, maple steam hanging in the air, a sweet sauna. From old low timbers of the old barn dripped the dampness of spring. The Fisher family and friends gathered, a springtime reunion, some with Vermont accents as thick as the spring mud, Vermont’s fifth season. Memories flowed, bringing quiet tears, of carrying my then-toddler daughters in my arms to inhale the maple, teaching them the ancient ways carried over from Native populations long passed. “Forty gallons of sap makes one gallon of syrup Daddy!” they would exclaim with delight. Pee Wee, a stout firefighter with a horseshoe mustache holding court over the sample bucket, passed around tiny paper cups of fresh, warm syrup. Heavenly sweetness slipped down our throats. Arnie, a multi-generation farmer exclaimed without irony that he was a diabetic and thus could not even enjoy the fruits of his labor, at least not to eat. Another relative stoked the fire, while he skimmed the froth off the top as the sap boiled down.
This moment captured last weekend filled my heart with great elation. I contemplated my own mortality, my life here on this funny little planet. Cancer does that to you with a steady drumbeat. Those moments when you are frozen in your tracks and realize the beauty in things great and small. I had no reason to turn up Pleasant Valley Road, a beautiful backstretch between Rockingham and Saxtons River, but something pulled me there. I saw the cars, the smoke rising from the rusted chimney and I knew. It was a Vermont homecoming.
The art of making maple syrup, like life itself, when lived to its fullest, is about boiling something down to its sweetest essence. It is a science, a craft and then there is that something else: faith and hope. Faith and hope that when it is all done, all that we have left is the sweetness.