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Hardwood Violence, or: I’d tap that sugarbush

March 4, 2010

This is violent world, particularly for the least of us. The voiceless. The immobilized. The delicious.

The sugar maple.

Not that Acer saccharum is particularly singled out among the perennially woody for brutality. Consider the fate of most livewood unlucky enough to catch the shifty eye of human: mechanically eviscerated through by a screaming two-stroke chain rip, severed from the fertile earthly anchor, felled, limbed, dragged by metal tether over the denuded floor, cutting a scar trail through the landscape with its own heavy corpse.

For the most prized of these, their fibers are attentively sawn and severed. Others, bent, stunted, are set upon by mauls and hydraulics. The least, the junk, chipped and processed for pulp.

Ok, remember The Matrix? Red pill, blue pill. Alseep or awake. If most trees die young and brutally, they are yet briefly alive. But the sugar maple, the chosen deciduous, is the incubator for our metabolism. The bleeding fuel-pump. Too valuable to kill, we cage it to our vampiric gluttony. It lives in our Matrix. We are the pancake-pour parasites.

The blood-lust begins early

This season always sneaks on me, thick-of-winter we still are. The gray, dirty snow one foot thick, on my third car ice-scraper of the year, and suddenly: the billowing steam from backyard & barn-side shacks. Holy fuck, it’s sugartime!

As with all dark arts, the physiology of maple sap production is shrouded with an opaque cloud, but frozen night sliding into daytime thaw are the primer for the awakening pump of sap flow.

Current theory sets it up thus: Winter’s hard frost freezes the sap in the sapwood, dissolving CO2 and contracting gases, creating negative pressure within the tree which pulls water up from the soil and increases sap volume. Then comes warm days, building interior pressure as gas expands & thawed sap flows downward, raising psi within the trunk up as high as 40-plus. Repeated night/day freeze/thaws are the engine of sap production.

& now time for a Telling Quote, from the classic Ohio State University Extension Bulletin 856 North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual:

. . . note that while the production of maple sap by maple trees is a natural physiological phenomenon, the flow and collection of sap is not; rather, it occurs as a result of wounding the tree and “harvesting” the sap which flows in response to this wounding.

Wounding. That’s one way to describe the pounding of a catheter into the hardwood’s veined flesh.

And the blood is let.

The old-timey sugar scenes of hung galvanized buckets catching the drip-drip of vitality has given way to a industrial web of flex-plastic IV tubing, augmented by the gas-stroked vacuum pump to forcibly extract what weak pressure differential would otherwise hold within, the final wide artery of fluid released direct into a mammoth cistern at the sugar house, faucet-valved above a wide evaporator pan into which the sap pours.

And then the flame is lit.

By now you will show no surprise to learn that the alchemy that converts sap to syrup is as numerological as a Masonic occultist. Syrupers call it The Rule of 86.

Again from NAMSPM:

The relationship is as follows:

S = 86/X
where “S” is the number of gallons of sap required to produce one gallon of syrup, “X” is the Brix [sugar content] value of the sap, and 86 is a mathematical constant representing the percentage of solids on a weight-volume basis that is in a gallon of syrup (see following discussion).

It follows, then, that the number of gallons of water that must be evaporated from sap to obtain one gallon of syrup can be calculated by subtracting “1” from the above equation:

W = (86/X) – 1
As an example, using sap with a density of 2° Brix requires 43 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup:

S = 86/X = 86/2 = 43 gallons sap
and 42 gallons of water must be evaporated to produce one gallon of syrup:

W = (86/X) – 1 = (86/2) – 1 = 43 – 1 = 42 gallons water

Blood is thicker than water, but damn thinner that maple syrup.

The scene in the sugar house at full peak boil is, well, like a porn movie as envisioned by Carhartt. Winter-pale human flesh, covered in the thread-barest of tank-top, boxers, and work boots, glistening from sweat and condensed sticky sap vapor, as the evaporator seethes with low-boil.

And the pickle is et.

The groundhog can go fuck himself. Sugar Season is the real motherfucking harbinger of Spring.

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