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HOME > Classical Novels > Being a Boy > XIV THE SUGAR CAMP
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I think there is no part of farming the boy enjoys more than the making of maple sugar; it is better than "blackberrying," and nearly as good as fishing. And one reason he likes this work is that somebody else does the most of it. It is a sort of work in which he can appear to be very active and yet not do much.

And it exactly suits the temperament of a real boy to be very busy about nothing. If the power, for instance, that is expended in play by a boy between the ages of eight and fourteen could be applied to some industry, we should see wonderful results. But a boy is like a galvanic battery that is not in connection with anything: he generates electricity and plays it off into the air with the most reckless prodigality. And I, for one, wouldn't have it otherwise. It is [Pg 114] as much a boy's business to play off his energies into space as it is for a flower to blow, or a catbird to sing snatches of the tunes of all the other birds.

In my day, maple-sugar making used to be something between picnicking and being shipwrecked on a fertile island where one should save from the wreck tubs and augers, and great kettles and pork, and hen's-eggs and rye-and-indian bread, and begin at once to lead the sweetest life in the world. I am told that it is something different nowadays, and that there is more desire to save the sap, and make good, pure sugar, and sell it for a large price, than there used to be, and that the old fun and picturesqueness of the business are pretty much gone. I am told that it is the custom to carefully collect the sap and bring it to the house, where there are built brick arches, over which it is evaporated in shallow pans; and that pains is taken to keep the leaves, sticks, and ashes and coals out of it; and that the sugar is clarified; and that, in short, it is a money-making business, in which there is very little fun, and that the boy is not [Pg 115] allowed to dip his paddle into the kettle of boiling sugar and lick off the delicious sirup. The prohibition may improve the sugar, but it is cruel to the boy.

As I remember the New England boy (and I am very intimate with one), he used to be on the qui vive in the spring for the sap to begin running. I think he discovered it as soon as anybody. Perhaps he knew it by a feeling of something starting in his own veins,—a sort of spring stir in his legs and arms, which tempted him to stand on his head, or throw a handspring, if he could find a spot of ground from which the snow had melted. The sap stirs early in the legs of a country boy, and shows itself in uneasiness in the toes, which get tired of boots, and want to come out and touch the soil just as soon as the sun has warmed it a little. The country boy goes barefoot just as naturally as the trees burst their buds, which were packed and varnished over in the fall to keep the water and the frost out. Perhaps the boy has been out digging into the maple-trees with his jack-knife; at any rate, he is pretty sure to announce [Pg 116] the discovery as he comes running into the house in a great state of excitement—as if he had heard a hen cackle in the barn—with, "Sap's runnin'!"

And then, indeed, the stir and excitement begin. The sap-buckets, which have been stored in the garret over the woodhouse, and which the boy has occasionally climbed up to look at with another boy, for they are full of sweet suggestions of the annual spring frolic,—the sap-buckets are brought down and set out on the south side of the house and scalded. The snow is still a foot or two feet deep in the woods, and the ox-sled is got out to make a road to the sugar camp, and the campaign begins. The boy is everywhere present, superintending everything, asking questions, and filled with a desire to help the excitement.

It is a great day when the cart is loaded with the buckets and the procession starts into the woods. The sun shines almost unobstructedly into the forest, for there are only naked branches to bar it; the snow is soft and beginning to sink down, leaving the young bushes spindling up everywhere; [Pg 117] the snow-birds are twittering about, and the noise of shouting and of the blows of the axe echoes far and wide. This is spring, and the boy can scarcely contain his delight that his outdoor life is about to begin again.

In the first place the men go about and tap the trees, drive in the spouts, and hang the buckets under. The boy watches all these operations with the greatest interest. He wishes that some time when a hole is bored in a tree that the sap would spout out in a stream as it does when a cider-barrel is tapped; but it never does, it only drops, sometimes almost in a stream, but on the whole slowly, and the boy learns that the sweet things of the world have to be patiently waited for, and do not usually come otherwise than drop by drop.

Then the camp is to be cleared of snow. The shanty is re-covered with boughs. In front of it two enormous logs are rolled nearly together, and a fire is built between them. Forked sticks are set at each end, and a long pole is laid on them, and on this are hung the great caldron kettles. The [Pg 118] huge hogsheads are turned right side up, and cleaned out to receive the sap t............
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