Lange: In the sugarhouse

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(HOST)  Commentator Willem Lange has been celebrating one of Vermont’s most sacred annual rituals.

(LANGE) The morning sun was just flooding the dining room when the phone rang.  It was Bob. "Hey!" he said.  "We’re boilin’.  Come on up for lunch"

There’s a richness of rituals here in northern New England that’s tied to the calendar.  Unlike the rituals of church, they begin with a phone call.         

November: "We’re gonna be in camp this weekend.  Comin’ over?  Bring some sausage and  some of that Vermont designer beer."  January:  "Supposed to snow tonight.  You want to ski Craftsbury tomorrow?"  February:  "We’re gonna fish Lake Fairlee Saturday.  Are you in?"  May:  "The ice is out of Woodbury Pond.  You got your boat painted yet?" July:  "The Mountaineers are playing tomorrow night.  Wanna go?"  September:  "If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, we’re splitting.  You come help stack, I’ll bring the splitter down to your place next week and we’ll get that puny pile of yours put away."

It’s a smörgåsbord of delightful choices, each tinged with good-natured abuse around the edges.  Although, because of diminished capacity, they’re not the pure joy they once were, they’re precious because fewer lie ahead than behind.  So I always try, to seize the day.

Bob and I go pretty far back.  We graduated from secondary school in 1953, met again at our fortieth reunion, and somehow hit it off.  Since then we’ve paddled several rivers together, and now live only an hour apart.  So when he called, I was out of here.

Sugaring, like haying, is dependent on the weather.  It happens every year, but how well it happens is a matter of fortune.  There’s little self-congratulation for success; rather, a sigh of relief if the gods have smiled upon us once again.

Back in the Sixties, when I was teaching school, a friend lent me his sugar bush and all the equipment.  Everything was by hand – drilling, hauling, and splitting.  We could drive right to the sugarhouse door in our little black Beetle; so we had some lovely evening parties there.  The cold night air kept the steam from venting, and the place filled with vapor.  For days afterward our clothes smelled like syrup.

I haven’t sugared for about thirty years now, but I do love to drop by while the fire roars under the arch, stainless steel gleams, the steam reaches up to the roof beams, and the little float valves open and shut as if by magic.  There’s usually a six-pack outside in the snow.
Bob sugars on with a friend of his in the Town of Shelburne – Mansfield and Camels Hump on one side, Adirondacks on the other.  The walls of the shack are decorated with old tools – spiles, saws, and augers.  It has electricity and a TV set; Channel 3 only.  Bob broiled hotdogs and toasted the buns on a long-handled toaster.  The beer was cold.  Nothing could have been finer.

On the way home, following the sparkling Winooski, I decided to make a phone call of my own to Bob in May.  "Hey!  River’s up.  How ’bout an overnight?"

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.

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