•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It was here before I knew it. My son-in-law, Darrell, told me it's the succession of warm days and cold nights that gets the sap moving, pulsing nutrients stored in the roots up to where the leaves will form. And my grandson, Aiden, took me around Poppy Cherniske's farm so we could peek under the lids of the tin buckets to see how fast the drops fell, and we climbed the mountain, and Oppa flew Aiden over the rocks where the springs had washed out the trail, and we never found the top, but the forest was so open we we could see across the valley. Not a green sprout to be seen, but spring was surging.

Back at the bottom of the mountain everyone was gathered around the sugaring house where they were boiling down the sap. We learned that 40 gallons of sap makes 1 gallon of syrup, and that the buckets must be emptied every day or the sap ferments and has to be thrown away. Making syrup takes real work.

This row of trees is not on the Cherniske farm but along the road by Beardsley Farm in the Great Hollow. The previous photograph of roadside trees in the snow was taken less than half a mile from here and 6 days earlier. What a change! In a blog response to that photo Jane suggested that perhaps the early farmers who planted roadside maple trees also harvested them for maple syrup. I'm sure she's right. The early farmers learned to make maple syrup from the native tribes. Cane sugar was an expensive commodity in colonial times and had to be transported long distances, so maple sugar was the preferred sweetener.

Spring has arrived with startling speed. Now a crew rides up this road every day in a truck with a large plastic tank to collect the flowing sap. The trees in this stretch of road are fairly new in maple-tree-years and planted much closer together than was customary among 18th and 19th century farmers. In some places I can still find the mostly decayed stumps of the earlier generation of maples, like giant footprints across this new age, but the sap is still flowing.