Recently, we’ve been getting eggs from our good friend Bill – whose chickens have returned to a more regular laying schedule. Since we were down to 1 egg in the refrigerator this morning, Jim called Bill to see if we could swing by and pick up a couple dozen eggs. Bill suggested we come around about noon. His new, young apprentice would be there to continue her horse team “driving” lessons and he wanted us to meet her. I was pretty sure this also meant we would be invited along for a sleigh ride through his sugarbush and I grabbed my camera on our way out the door! 🙂
Bill’s getting prepped for the annual maple sugar season when he taps between 800 and 1000 trees – selling his syrup at local coops throughout the year. He sugars the old-fashioned way using a team of horses to gather the sap that is collected from buckets hanging from taps drilled into trees. He has quite possibly the prettiest sugarbush I have ever seen. He’s been lovingly caring for these woods for over 35 years and it shows. I love wandering through his forested land – especially when being pulled by the horses in the sleigh!
We’ve had a pretty good snow pack this year and he has been taking his team of horses out regularly to pack the trails through the woods. This year, he is training a young girl from a neighboring town to drive the horses during gathering season. Once the saps starts to run, Bill is busy boiling in the sugar house and he enlists competent helpers to drive the horses and collect the sap. Ella has proven to be a quick study and is driving the horses during our jaunt around the woods today, with teacher Bill along for moral support. She has such an air of competence about her that I feel totally comfortable with her at the reins.
While we waited for Bill and Ella to get the horses harnessed and ready to be hitched to the sleigh, Jim and I entertained ourselves watching the chickadees swooping down to feed on the sunflower seeds that Bill provides for them.
With the horses harnessed, Bill walks them up to the sleigh.
And, once in position behind the sleigh – they get all hitched up and are ready to take a spin through the sugarbush. I’m always amazed how incredibly strong these horses are and, even with the soft and slippery snow, they manage the ups and downs and twists and turns of the trail with relative ease.
Scenes from the Woods
The horses are guided through the sugarbush following a maze of trails so that they get used to the route and continue to pack the snow. Bill tells us that Huck and Hazel are being particularly well-behaved today and suggests they are showing off for us! Ella nods in agreement. I’ve been observing the two horses as we traverse the woods and notice that Huck seems much more interested in us and his surroundings than Hazel. Often turning his head around to check us out. They definitely have very distinct and unique personalities.
Coming up the trail above the sugar house, we stop and give the horses a break at the location where they will eventually be stationary to unload sap from the tank in the sleigh into the storage tanks below the trail. From the storage tanks, the sap runs into the evaporator in the sugar house.
After a break at the sugar house, we head back to the barn to grab our eggs and haul a couple of boards out to our truck – to store in our basement to dry out a bit for Bill.
I cannot think of a better way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny, “warm” afternoon in the middle of March in Vermont…I feel so privileged!