March 15

Posted on: March 16, 2013

I had let Darlene know that I would NOT be on hand when the power came back at noon.  I really wanted to be at home, with my family for this momentous occasion:  a step back toward normalcy.  It seemed very strange to me to consider electricity ‘momentous’, and I feel certain that no one would have thought this way six months ago.  But here we were, waiting for a light bulb to glow.


Last night we had brought in one of the sap buckets, pouring the contents into a pitcher and replacing the bucket on its tap-hook outside on the tree.  The sap was slushy by the rapid cool down from the drop in temperature of the night.  By morning, though, it was completely melted and there was just enough for the French Press.

John took a tentative sip of his coffee.  The smile lit up his eyes first.

“Good, huh?” I smiled.

“We get to do this every morning?” he asked.

“Every morning of tapping.”

“Which is how long?”

“It will depend on the weather,” I answered honestly.  “Some years it will be three weeks, others only a week.  We can collect sap until it starts to run cloudy, then we have to pull the taps or risk damaging the tree.”


After we savored the flavorful coffee, we headed for the barn to uncover my old cooking stand, one I had used in the woods.  Jason had made a custom cabinet for me that matched the cupboards in my kitchen.  It was slightly smaller and just big enough to hold a 20# propane tank, but was as high as the counters, once the casters were installed, and easy to work on.  I had purchased a single gas burner and the necessary hoses and regulator to fit the tank, so Jason was able to size the opening in the top; everything would be contained inside.  The top is very unique: he made it with ‘sides’: a square trough.  I had collected all kinds of rocks during my many walks and arranged them within a bed of cement poured into this ‘trough’.  The first rocks that I placed were flat and set under the ‘feet’ of the burner so it was level; then the rest were arranged to fit.  There were rose  quartz and white quartz; sand smoothed glass;  stones with red veins; chunks of granite and the glittery hematite; pieces with smooth holes warn from water constantly beating on one spot; all selected carefully; all very special to me.  Once the cement dried and hardened, my ‘River Rock Table Top’ served as a heat resistant counter top for cooking with propane.  Now it’s used only for cooking syrup.

“Why don’t we just use the gas stove in the kitchen?” John wanted to know.

He asks such good questions!  “I did that.  Once!” I laughed.  “Many years ago when I lived downstate.  The steam from cooking the sap down isn’t normal steam… it’s sugary.  I had a sticky coating over everything in the kitchen, especially the ceiling.  What a mess to clean up.  From then on I cooked outside, but did the final cooking and canning inside.”  He just nodded, the explanation was logical.

We set the cooking cabinet in the center of the barn after moving the car out.  It didn’t matter if the upper rafters got  some of the sticky steam, and we needed the wind block the barn would provide.  John brought one of the full 20# tanks from on the deck that was for the grill, and I showed him how I hooked it up.  From then on, it would be his job to change the tank when needed.  We should only go thru two tanks, maybe three, but that depended on the length of the season.

We broke for lunch just before noon, and were rewarded with …. Lights!  I got my digital alarm clock from the bed-stand, plugged it into a kitchen socket and set the time.  This way we would instantly know if the power went out again, but came back on:  the clock would be blinking if that happened.

Power was joyous, but we still had work to do, and after some soup, back outside we went.  John poured the contents of the six collection pails into 5-gallon plastic buckets, and filled two!  Ten gallons is a good first day.  I strained enough of one into my largest cooking pot, to fill it half way, and set it to start heating.  Remembering how I had two pots going out in the woods, over the wood fire, I asked John to bring one of the plastic buckets inside.  I filled my next pot with the cold sap and set it on the cook stove.

“What about the steam?” he reminded me.

“This is just to take the chill off.  It’s easier to boil warm sap than it is cold.  We’ll take it out and add it to the big pot before it can come to a boil.”  This was a lesson I learned that first year in the woods, and made the cooking down go much faster.


I saw the boys, their children, and the puppy, crossing the yard around 5:00.  Jason stopped to examine the pails on the trees, making some comments to his brother.

I was about to say something to Jason about rationing when he set the six pack of beer on the table, but then he produced a bottle of zinfandel, and I figured I could remind him later.

“Uncle Tom tapped his trees, didn’t he?” Jason asked.

“Yes, so that equipment should be around somewhere; maybe in their barn?  I know he used the deep fryer burner for cooking.  He would always set up the syrup stuff and his beer brewing in that screened shelter you built him.”  I remember seeing him sitting out there; a tarp dropped as a wind block, and felt my throat tighten a bit.  “You going to tap?”

“Yeah, I think so.  It’ll give us something to do; something productive.” Jason was getting bored; I think Eric would too, eventually. We all would in time.

I noticed Chevas sniffing around Tufts food dish, so I moved it onto the table and sat back down.  She scarfed up the pieces that had landed on the floor, just as Tufts decided to make an appearance.  We all watched with interest, but we wouldn’t let either animal get hurt.  The pup went to Tufts, sniffing with playful curiosity; Tufts hissed and Chevas stopped; the cat sat down where he was and so did the pup; but Chevas, being a puppy lasted two seconds sitting still and ventured closer to this big black furry thing; when she got too close, Tufts gave her a healthy swat on the nose with a clawless paw, and she sent her scurrying to hide behind a table leg; Tufts slowly sauntered out of the room.  I thought it went very well.

“Why don’t you build something, Jason?” We continued.  What could I ask him to make for me? “Now that the power is back, I would think you’d be anxious to fire up your tools!”

His head came up sharply, and he turned toward the clock, with its red digital numbers shining brightly, as if seeing it for the first time.

“I had forgotten today was the day.  Yeah, maybe I’ll make something,” he trailed off, lost in thought.  He turned back with a smile, and raised his beer, “To electricity!” But he still had that faraway look in his eyes.  Eric was preoccupied with his daughter.  John was silent, staring out the window.  Something felt very wrong with my family.

3 thoughts on “March 15

  1. So glad to have found this! I started yesterday morning and have been devouring the story almost non-stop. Now caught up, the waiting will be unbearable, lol. Congrats to Deborah for such a wonderfully written story. I have gotten totally attached to the characters and look forward to reading more. Again, thanks so much for this!

  2. I’m thinking about how everyone would feel once the electric was back on and some things would be less difficult. Deborah would be able to conserve fuel by using electric rather than the gennie, and that would be a very good thing!
    There’s an issue here of everyone having had to adapt to a new style of living, complete with new relationships and living arrangements brought on by the crisis. Things have been catastrophic and there has been lot of major stress on everyone from all that has happened. They’ve had to learn a lot of things and quickly become used to a lifestyle that very few of them have ever had to live.
    Maybe John is concerned that once things are relatively normal independent Deborah might not “need” him? Of course, being privy to Deborah’s thoughts and feelings about John we know that she doesn’t “NEED” him, she loves him, whole different story.
    I have noticed in relationships that when something major changes a partner sometimes goes through a period of uncertainty, the word I’m looking for eludes me here, but the feeling is that the relationship may not survive the new situation. Insecure I guess would be the best way to describe it. John might feel that Deborah was forced into their relationship by necessity and could be concerned that things will change within their lives that will tear apart the rapport they’ve been building together.
    Just my musings.

  3. I’ll bet that feeling of waiting for the electricity to come back on was akin to that our parents felt when REA first came around.
    Making the syrup sounds like a busy, but rewarding job.
    Oh-oh. read the ending. Now I’ll be worrying what’s wrong!

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