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Spoonful of Sugar

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

My friend Chris is a regular enough guy. A family man with a background in Information Technology, he operates a small software development business from home. His family enjoys the many amenities and conveniences of our present time in almost every way. His differences however, and the probably the impetus to our friendship, lay in the fact he’s cut from a cloth of a past generation. A life-long learner and constant tinkerer, he’s the kind of guy who hunts for meat, changes his own oil, and fixes broken plumbing. Each spring, he’s liable to be found cruising the neighborhood and local woodlots by headlamp, bucket in-hand, collecting sap for his maple syrup operation.

We were Introduced last summer by mutual friends. While our three families made way up the Empire Bluff Trail in Sleeping Dunes National Lakeshore, Chris and I honed in on our own side conversation. Among the topics we landed on, syrup was something new. Chris offered enough details to spark my intrigue, and agreed to let me in on the action of collection and production the following spring.

In the meantime, a regular friendship took form. We spent time bowhunting together during the fall. The leaves were in full color, and while driving to our hunting grounds he continued to educate on the realm of maple syrup…Michigan comes in fifth place in overall syrup production at ninety thousand gallons. Yet, the volume of mature Maple trees far outweighs the competition, and only utilize 1% of the states' maples are used. There’s a difference between sweetness in the sap from each sub-type, Sugar Maples are the best, followed by Autumn Blaze and Reds, but in the end, they’re all good producers. He spoke to the natural health benefits of maple syrup over other sweeteners. It’s full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals; He puts this into practice, too, using it on everything including his morning coffee. Each year in Michigan, ninety thousand gallons of syrup are produced, of which Chris was hoping to contribute merely ten of, a seemingly simple goal to attain, in comparison. Through the winter I could hardly wait to see how would all play out.

When gray clouds broke to reveal a bluebird sky one February afternoon, Chris called saying it was time to run his tap lines. I drove to his in-law's and found him in the middle of a freshly swept barn floor, neatly arranging various piles of equipment. Bulk bags of various plastic parts were strewn alongside industrial-sized spools of blue colored tubing. We loaded all the parts, a drill, thermos of hot water, and the blue coils into a couple rubbermaid bins and set out.

He had pre-identified the 50+ trees we’d be tapping and marked each with