by Annie Hébert
It is early spring; my husband and I are at the bush camp, or what we French Canadians fondly refer to as la cabane à sucre, or “sugar shack.” Today is one of those glorious late March spring days where the mercury will likely climb to 9 or 10 degrees Celsius. The snow is melting slowly and shimmers in the light. A perfect spring day.
Inside the camp, my partner fires up the 14-foot stainless steel evaporator, as he does every 15 to 20 minutes. He slams shut the cast steel doors. A progressively louder roar emanates as the sap starts to boil again. It is dripping into the largest portion of the evaporator from a large reservoir on the side. The sugar contained in the sap concentrates more and more as water evaporates into steam; hence the cloud of steam seen escaping from the rooftop openings. The more concentrated sap makes its way into a smaller pan towards the front of the evaporator and is what we refer to as trempette, a favourite sweet hot drink with both children and adults. In fact, quite a few grown-ups like to add a little rye whiskey to the trempette — for medicinal purposes, of course… The near syrup will be drained into a finishing pan, where the sugar content is monitored until it achieves the proper concentration.
Since the weather has been perfect, frosty nights and warming days, the sap has been flowing from the maple trees. My husband and sons harness up the horses and prepare to go gather sap — referred to in French as faire la tournée. They walk from one tapped tree to another, emptying the tree-hung pails into 5-gallon containers, which they then carry back to a 500-gallon tank sitting on the horse-drawn sled.
My moment of peace has arrived. Everyone one is gone and I step outside the camp to sit in a south-facing chair protected from any breeze by the walls of the camp. The sun is so warm that I remove my jacket and bask in a short-sleeved shirt. I pull out my favourite book but quickly put it aside, and instead close my eyes and put my head back. The sound of the sap dripping softly “ting, ting, ting” into the pails hung from hundreds of trees echoes enchantingly. I revel in it. I just sit there with the sun warming my face and enjoy the moment. I may not get the chance to do this again for another year. I only have a few minutes until I must get back into the camp and fire up the stove once again, drain the filtered maple syrup into jugs or tins while it is still warm, and prepare supper for the family. With one deep breath, I open my eyes, thank God for this moment, and walk into the camp with a smile on my face.
A Short Moment of Peace was produced by Annie Hébert for the 2012 French River Story Mill writing course, which was offered through the French River Cultural Industries Council.