This is the picturesque side of maple syrup making that everyone knows about. I suppose there are regions where people don’t know about maple syrup making, spots like Africa and Asia and New York City and Florida. But in general isn’t that the perfect New England/Canadian image? Well, there is a dark side to sapping that I didn’t know about until this year. And if any one is going to fall into the dark side of anything it is likely to be me. I swear I won’t. I give myself small lectures on a daily basis. “Kelly, don’t screw your scarf into the post with that handy dandy screw gun whilst you are screwing a screw into the post.” “Kelly, don’t slam your thumb into the car door.” (That’s a mishap that hurts like hell but the way the doctor released the pressure was pretty cool, he heated a paperclip and pressed the hot end into the nail releasing a spew of blood, it felt much better quickly.) “Kelly, don’t forget you put a bucket in the doorway to keep the door open for the chickens, you might trip on it in the dark.” (That was yesterday and I did forget but didn’t break any bones.) “Kelly, don’t slip on another cow flap and break your other ankle.” I have to have these conversations with myself all the time to keep myself alive. Somebody is out to get me and I don’t know who.
No, I am not delusional or paranoid – it is a simple fact, weird things happen to me all the time for reasons I can not fathom. I was having a great stretch all of December and most of January and WHAM! Someone rear ends me. My neck still hurts. The list is endless – look at my poem Injuries, Chapter One, if you are interested. If you have any idea why or how my life is like this please clue me in. I’d like it to NOT be like this. I don’t mean to or want to have bumps-bruises-and-mishaps on a regular basis. Maybe a Karma issue? Maybe a reincarnation issue? I have wondered if there is a genetic problem. I have a clear image of mother’s fence-post-driving-sledgehammer head slipping and catching her thumb/index finger skin between the head and the handle – gruesome. She lost a lot of skin and blood in that one. I have an Uncle whose lists of mishaps is greater than anyone I’ve known or heard about. He’s done things like stepping off into the “under construction” basement sans steps in the middle of the night, a mean eight foot or so drop. I recall being in his car, seated cozily in the front between him and my Aunt and the hood of the car flying up – WHAM! Scared the hell out of me – perhaps it was a hex of some sort that has spiralled me into another dimension of this world where bumps-bruises-and-mishaps (and the occasional break) are the norm.
Sorry for the tangent but it is relative to this story. How can maple syrup making go wrong? There are the obvious things like getting scalded with boiling sap, the handy dandy screw gun slipping and drilling a hole in my sleeve or arm instead of the tree, I could have tapped my thumb with the hammer whilst tapping in the tap, I could have tripped on a bucket. I didn’t do any of those because I had told myself to not do any of those things. Out loud, in a firm voice, I said, “Kelly, you are going to tap trees today, you are going to take your time and have no bumps-bruises-or-mishaps.”
Wednesday was gorgeous, a little late for getting the buckets out but there we were Wednesday morning; we being me, my nice metal buckets that I bought second hand in NH last year, $10 bucks a bucket with cover as opposed to $20 bucks a bucket with cover for new ones here in MA, my handy dandy screw gun, my spiles, which I bought off Craigslist years ago for $1 a piece (they’d cost $4.99 new). I met the seller in the parking lot of REI, kind of a thrill to exchange goods and money in a parking lot, good deal too as she also gave me a bunch of nice glass jars. So I had everything, an hour before a coffee date and just ten buckets to put up.
Then I ran into that problem, you know, the bark problem. The cover has to fit above the spile, there is a nicely engineered notch in the spile for the cover to attach to, which works beautifully – if – and only if you have a good seven inch stretch of perfectly unobstructed straightness – which on a big old maple isn’t a guarantee. Bark is to a tree what rocks and sediment are to Arizona – some seriously uneven landscape.
So I needed a bit of wire to secure the cover. And I didn’t have wire with me. I also needed wire clippers. So I went into my husband’s workshop to get the clippers. And I said to myself, out loud in a pleasant but firm voice I said, “Kelly, you have to promise yourself that you will promptly return these clippers or else your husband will kill you and that’s a mishap you don’t need.” I said. And for good measure I added, “Besides it is nice to know where they are for when you need them to trim the rabbit’s teeth again.” (Not to digress here but that is an interesting job and a new one to me. Never had a rabbit with deformed teeth, top ones growing straight back into the poor little guy’s mouth, bottom ones growing straight up into his nose! Snip, Snip, Snip, Snip. No need to mention this use of wire snippers, I mean clippers to my husband – okay?) (Thanks!)
So wire clippers/teeth snippers in hand I went looking for wire. Which I had intended to get from my spool of electric fence. Then I thought, hmm maybe there is lead on that wire – that’s a mishap I don’t want in my maple syrup and besides I think the electric fence spool is under three to six feet of snow. I decided my husband wouldn’t notice if I clipped and stole a bit of his nice plastic covered wire that he keeps in the old potting shed.
The old potting shed is attached to his workshop. In the winter it stores pellets for the pellet stove. It also stores a bunch of wire, various projects that need to be done, including no less than three broken chairs, a bunch of clamps neatly attached to a shelf, there is usually two chain saws in there but he had loaned those to my mother, there was a new one though, still in its box. He also has his boat cushions in there. And wood pellets which I think I already mentioned. Not so many as there had been, of course. So I am poking around trying to find wire. It was strangely bright in there, like a blue cave. The shed is a door-shy from being three solid glass walls. Two walls are entirely covered with snow as roof shovelling had left huge snowpiles. The shed glass is a strange old heavy glass with chicken wire in the middle of it and framed with metal. It was clearly made back when people made stuff to last forever. It was nice and blue bright in there but still I couldn’t find the wire.
The lighting was good, the air was BAD. My husband loves moth balls. Yes – Loves them – says they smell like summer!
His parents filled their summer house with moth balls for the winter and sure enough come summer that house smelled like moth balls, would be late August before the smell was gone.
I don’t like the smell of moth balls, in fact I am allergic to them. My throat and tongue started swelling up the second that first waft hit my nose.
I held my breathe and held my scarf over my nose and looked high and low – no wire.
I looked one more time, standing on tippy toe to see the top shelf, no wire. I tugged and pulled at the file cabinet drawers in which he files little tiny electrical do-dads, no wire. I gave up and pulled the door to exit the workshop.
Pause here and try not to panic.
The door wouldn’t open.
From inside the workshop.
Even before I tried the door to the outside I knew it wasn’t going to work, we’ve had 96 inches of snow in Ipswich this winter, a good three feet are still on the ground.
Hellfire and damnation!
Not only was I stuck I couldn’t breathe.
Maybe in my post about getting stuck in the pig pen I said I couldn’t breathe – I didn’t know what I was talking about back then. Smelling pig poop isn’t fun but it won’t kill anyone.
I kicked at the outside door for a while only getting a nice two inch crack to let in fresh air. I stuck my nose in the crack, inhaled deeply and about died. I may as well have stuck my nose in a box of mothballs and inhaled. Behind the boat cushions and right next to my nose on a little side shelf was a two cup container of mothballs. I grabbed them and covered them with a drop cloth.
I have to admit I was pretty well into panic mode. If I had just been stuck, oh well too bad for me, someone would find me sooner or later. But this allergy problem sure added to the drama.
I wondered if my coffee date would come looking for me at some point but doubted it.
I contemplated yelling but knew that none of neighbors were home.
No, of course I didn’t have my cell phone.
I covered my face again and searched for a tool to either break the metal laced windows or cut the wooden door.
By some stroke of luck I found my little short handled pruning saw. I wedged the blade between the door frame and door and cut my way out. I felt awful about it – I love old things, including old doors and hated to hack it to pieces but what choice did I have?
I kicked out the boards and made my escape. Fortunately I am a narrow human being and only had to cut this much:
Does this stuff happen to other people?
When I picked my daughter Emma up from school I said, “you won’t believe what happened to me today!” When I got to the needing wire part she groaned and said, “let me guess, you cut a live wire and shocked yourself?” This is the reputation I have! My own kid thinks I am a nut. I told her no of course not, I told her I had in fact seen a perfect wire in the workshop and had had the good sense to follow it and see that it was in use so hadn’t cut it – by golly she’d better give me a little credit!
I had decided I’d best tell my husband that I had wrecked his shed door at dinner; nothing like hot food and a beer to get a man into a sympathetic listening mood. No such luck. He came home and went straight in to load the pellet stove. He marched into the kitchen, his arms swinging like an angry ape, his hands fisted, the grooves in his forehead looking a lot like the bark that had caused the whole problem to begin with, “WHATTT THE HECK DID YOU DO TO MY DOOR?”
After I explained the whole thing, pointing out that I was safe and sound and what would he do with a normal perfectly boring wife who never had bumps-bruises-or-mishaps he let a flicker of a smile escape and said, “I didn’t know what had happened, the only thing I did know – it could only have been you!”
PS – did you notice the contrast of light and dark in my first photo here? nicely done if I may say so!