Although it ended up being painful to my former place of employment as my former colleague had chosen the first two weeks of the year to take his vacation, I ended my gig on Monday and will be free until next Wednesday, when I begin working a day job again.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and the LLARCS abhor inactivity, so naturally we plunged right into the next fear-inducing projects: creating a bedroom for Bundle o’ Joy II, and putting up the mainline in preparation for this year’s sugaring operation.
Here in sugaring country you might travel down any main or back road and notice black water pipe and a series of smaller bluish or clear plastic tubing snaking through the woods and hung half way up trees, and you either wondered vaguely why someone had left their garden hoses wrapped around trees or you decided it was a random act and avoided the topic altogether, until by chance you met someone who sugars and realized that buckets are romantic but not at all in vogue. When you get into larger production you need a way to efficiently move sap from tree to evaporator, and you can either do it with buckets, horses and a lot of hauling, or rely on gravity and physics and plastic, or, even more modern and efficient, you can attach a vaccuum to the end of your tubing and suck the lifeblood out of the trees, in which case you aren’t relying on gravity but you are relying on electricity. We’ve opted for the gravity-fed method, which involves littering our woods with permanent installations of black water pipe and plastic sap tubing, as well as an 1100 gallon storage tank to hold it all in.
We helped a friend string mainline last year, so we cashed in the favor and had him come out to show us how to even get started. In the book, your mainline is straight and tight and slopes perfectly downhill and yet is always accessible (i.e. is not ten feet over your head). In reality the woods are full of dips and hummocks, large rocks and trees blocking your line of sight, and it becomes somewhat of an act of faith to translate what the book tells you is correct into what reality is showing you. Still, we pressed on, and at the end of the day we had one fairly professional looking mainline installation, although we did end up bowing to reality and also to a gas powered pump since it turned out there was no way to gravity feed all the way to where we had originally envisioned our storage tank.
The next day, we went out armed with the knowledge that mainlines are not completely impossible to install, but minus our mentor, and immediately ran into an issue with the 12 gauge wire which was the first step. Somehow during the night it had, like Christmas lights or balls or string, tangled itself into an impossible mess, even though on the surface it still looked tightly coiled. Seasoned sugarers know this is an issue and maple producers capitalize on it by selling a wire spool for a ridiculous amount of money. But we were stubborn, so we ended up unraveling the stupid thing by hand, which took an hour and alot of running back and forth down our private road. Fortunately the snow isn’t too deep yet.
Finally the wire was up but we were running out of time, rushing to put the pipe up. To hold the pipe in place there are such things as “mainline tensioners” which resemble chinese finger torture things we all had as children, and which we can never remember the name of and keep referring to as Chinese Finger Torture Things, which we finally shortened to CFTTs, and which we didn’t have anyway so we ended up using pipe fittings, which were a great idea except as I was pulling on one end in the darkening day, the other end popped free. Three hundred feet of rapidly coiling water pipe started to hurl towards me, but fortunately was foiled by the trees, hummocks and dips mentioned earlier.
So: As of now we have one completely installed and one half-installed mainline with no laterals (the smaller sap tubing which will actually connect to the maples), and as with all projects here at Swamp Yankee Wannabes we’ll plug along until it is done and make it up as we go along. If we actually get a working system before the sap starts to flow, we’ll have earned ourselves our syrup this year.