The Stone Soup Institute is an international school offering courses of study which integrate traditional and contemporary practices and knowledge in the Agrarian Arts & Sciences, Crafts and Fine Arts.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maple Sugaring: Gathering the Sap

Note: Photos taken at the Webb Family Farm in Pittston Maine
Maple Syrup is one of the  great New England traditions which still has a lot of life in it.  The sap has been running for a few weeks- this season apparently is longer then usual. In order to get good runs, the nights need to dip below freezing, and the day needs to be  above freezing. This causes the sap to run up and down the tree.

A hole is drilled into the tree, and a simple tap is inserted into the hole. In the picture above you can see the bucket which is catching the sap.  There are some important concerns about bucket placement. Generally, it seems that the south side of the trees works better,because if the bucket is on the north side, the tap may not thaw out during the day. Also, you have to remember to take into consideration that the snow might melt after a while, so, if you can reach your bucket when standing on snow, you may not be able to reach it after the snow melts.
Next, the sap is gathered into a big vat. In this case, a horses are used to go from tap to tap, and someone empties the buckets into a big vat.

Here, the vat is the large metal container on the sled which the horses are pulling.  This sugar house was heated with wood,  which is common.  It needs to be split up small to fit into the firebox,  and so that is burns fast, and makes a hot fire. So, that shed with the wood is all for wood for making syrup. That has to be done beforehand. There is no time time to cut wood and keep an eye on the syrup.

A beautiful team of horses.

A lot of the wood has already been burned up at this point in the season.

If goats are present, they certainly will be involved, but they may not be helpful. 

Nanny goat and a baby goat. 

Goats keeping an eye on things.

The next blog entry will show the inside of the sugar house, the equipment, and the process of making syrup.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Signs Of Spring, Goodbye to Winter

Yesterday, it was warm enough to lay out in the sun. Winter really feels like its on its way out. The time for reflection and planning is switching into a time of activity and excitement. Sap is running up and down the maple trees--- one of the first, and sweetest harvests. The ground is beginning to thaw. The scent of the earth is becoming unfroze, and starting to travel with the breeze. The harsh, biting north wind has relinquished to the a warmer, softer southern wind. I remember the night that it happened- or at least the night I noticed it, a while back in February. I was driving at night, and saw it was windy.  I prepared for a cold blast from the north, and was surprised to feel the warmth on my face, instead of the usual chill. 

 It is winters bite that makes spring and summer embrace so welcome- a pattern repeated in the natural world many times over. 

Monday, March 14, 2011


The news had been reading like a science fiction novel from the 1950's.  This has made me feel as if adjectives have not yet been invented to describe what we are watching unfold, and what the people of Japan are experiencing.
The images of Japan show the rage and strength of this earth. If nothing else could do it, I hope that we have been humbled. The natural order that we live within can not be reversed. We can not outsmart our environment.  We have to understand it, and respect it, and live within the boundary of what is earthly sane.

Processing these events has been hard, and I have been left with only a dull ache, and a sadness that is for all of us.  There are times, when I feel that injustice and violence has been done to our environment, as though it was a passive entity that will be beaten into submission, and all the beautiful wildness of this world that I love will be lost.  I think this is not the case.  Destruction is part of natures identity.  Nuclear disaster is  part of  our races' identity..... but I do not know if this is natural or unnatural, or where to draw these lines.

I listened to a radio broadcast about a man who survived an avalanche. He said that as he rolled down the mountain in what felt like an isolation chamber; the snow pressed in on all sides him, so dense that light could not come through, he felt regret. He had been snowboarding with a group, and the leaders of the group gave two choices; one to keep going up the mountain, and one to go around the other side. Both kept him on the mountain, which was clearly showing signs of avalanche danger.  When he thought it was the end of his life, he realized that he had another choice--- to turn around and go back down. He realized that he had given complete control to these two leaders,  and both were leading the group up a mountain that was threatening to avalanche.  What struck me the most was this sentiment,  which he felt when he thought he would die on the mountain.  "I realized I had no choices left.  I had already made my choices. And they brought me to this."

I don't think we have run out of choices, but we have limited them. I do not think that we will destroy this earth, but I think we have destroyed some of our own happiness.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spring Time Poem!

This is a poem I wrote about spring. Spring right now is more of a promising smell in the air,  and a few beautiful warm, cloudy days. This is the heaving before new life begins to really claim its place.

In this moist bird song after the quick rain
That comes with spring,
I crawled up to a crest.
I'm in a sea of what may be,
But found within
This new color was
The womb I desired to enter.

The fleshy air, soft ground, the
Womb Landscape.

Young green blooms
Opening the branches
To take in the air
That both the cherry blossom
And our red lipped entrance

The opening of the roots in the
that need this rain,
Just like me.

The very form of this womb, the soft way it
has of changing, the honest way it must be expressed-
We are simply here, with one another,
And i'm just like any simple stem.

- Kate Miller