St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Monday, April 15, 2013

4 AM --and All is Well

When maple season is over there
will be time for pancakes and
pure maple syrup--right now
way too busy!
Just came in from throwing more wood on the maple sap boiling fire.  It is 4 am, the rain and snow has stopped and it is 32 degrees outside and 50 in the cabin.   Overslept and the cabin stove and the sap cooker were both down to just coals--so had to nurse them back to a fire again.

Walking the 100 yards to the cooker with the cabin yard light on and the sap shed light on, half way of the journey is dark.   I have a $1 one-AA battery 3-LED flashlight that has used the same battery for two years now.   It is wonderfully bright compared to my regular flashlights--all with almost dead batteries after a few months of use. 

Before looking at the thermometer on the open cabin porch, I have already guessed it is just under freezing as I crunch through the snow, feeling a wet bottom to each step.  The driveway maple has 4 5-gallon pails on it that were emptied at 1 pm yesterday; two of them look almost full with 4 gallons of sap and two with 2 gallons.  The sap was dripping at the 10 pm when I filled the sap pan and the wood.   The other tree next to the driveway hasn't dripped at all--I think the dozen folks who tapped this year didn't remember to stay a few inches away from old tap holes.  

I haven't counted the pails out, but I think there must be about 100. The maples grown on a single long west facing hillside.  Those at the bottom have been running on and off for 10 days.  Those on the steepest hillside have barely run at all.  On the plateaus midway down the big hill have run too.   

None of them ran Sunday - Thursday last week, but started Friday and have been dribbling away so that I collected about 250 gallons of sap Friday-Sunday, with what appears to be 100 gallons run since Sunday pickup at 11am to 1pm.  

I started cooking Friday afternoon when I got about 150 gallons of sap.  I have been cooking and adding sap to the 50 gallon pan since and have cooked about 200 gallons so far.   At 4 am I decided not to add more sap, but to finish this batch today, then clean the equipment and immediately start another batch while the fire coals are still hot 

While I was adding to the fire, two cars drove by headed east to the main highway.   "Going to work I suppose. Wonder how they can stand it to get up every week day and leave at 4 am?" I thought as I crunched around rustling up more firewood from the pile for the fire.  Getting up at 4 am as part of the few weeks of maple season is tolerable because I know it will soon end.

The boiling pan is 8 feet long and 2 feet wide and about 5 inches deep--it holds about 60 gallons of sap.  This morning it is only half full from boiling--30 gallons left from 200 gallons of sap.  I think my sap is averaging about 3% sugar, or about 33 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup.  That means I have to cook it down to 6 gallons left -- just enough to cover the bottom of the pan without it scorching in the high points of the 60 year old metal cooker--that sags a little in the middle.  

As I am up now, I will just lie down on top of the bed with my snow boots off, but dressed, and rest my eyes a little while the cabin warms up, the sap comes up to boiling and at daylight begin the firing in earnest, collect what I guess will be 150 gallons of sap (3 hours of hard work) and start testing the sap-turned syrup to decide when to take it off the fire (before it is fully cooked--but not much early) and clean up and restart the next batch. 

I think it is time to call some of the helpers who put out the taps for us this year (we weren't going to do it, but my nephew and some of his relatives and our friends put out the buckets).  Dick and Jeremy did most of the work for the first batch and got the syrup from it.  Maybe some others would like syrup in trade for labor. 

I am in a remission from Myasthenia Gravis--a disease that makes the muscles weak from attacks on the nerve-muscle receptors by my own immune system.  It started last May and with lots of prednisone has been improving until November, when I started slowly tapering off of 60 mg per day until two weeks ago I stopped it altogether.  

Normally you don't stop it, you just drop it to the lowest dose that works.   However, 15% of people go into a remission that they don't need drugs again--rare, but worth trying to find out if you are one of those.   So, when Myasthenia gets under control, you taper to zero and then wait a month or two and see if it comes back.

In the meantime, I have been able to work on the maple sap OK.  The first problems I had with MG is being out of breath when I tried to work.  That was gone last February but seems to be coming back, so my hunch is that by May I probably will have to go back on medicine.  But at least I know the medicine does get me functional.  Without it, I had double vision, difficulty chewing, typing, walking etc. 

Scott went back to MN to help Margo.  She had a series of appointments to drain a seroma--pool of blood or lymph fluid that formed under the removed breast skin flap, preventing the skin from attaching to the chest wall.  It was drained, an tube left in and this week she has 3 appointments to check on it and finally remove it by the end of the week.  Otherwise she has been recovering from chemo and surgery fine.  This is a minor setback, but sometimes the overall bother of the treatments gets to her (started chemo in August last year).   I tried to remind her that her cancer is gone, and this is just the healing process going on, albeit slowly, and that the 5 weeks of radiation ahead are not because she has cancer anymore, but to prevent it from coming back.  However, it is hard to remain cheerful when you don't feel good enough to help with the maple season!