Every Spring, when the weather is just right, (cold nights and warm days) the Maple trees give up their sap. Enterprising New Englanders gather this sap by drilling taps into the trees and catching the liquid in buckets. It is then hauled to a sugar house where a wood fired evaporator boils it down to our cherished Maple Syrup. This honey-like product is a staple in cooking and a favorite on a large stack of pancakes.
Saturday was the 17th Annual Sap Gathering Contest at Stonewall Farm. According to their website, “This event highlights not only the state’s important maple syrup industry, but also celebrates New Hampshire’s rich farm heritage.” Seventeen teams of draft horses, teamsters, and “sap runners” competed. The contest involves hitching the team to a sled with a large tank on the back. The two sap runners must dump 40 buckets of sap into the tank as the teamster guides the sled and horses around a course through the woods and fields. All of the sap buckets and their caps on the course must be emptied and properly installed back on the trees. Speed and amount of sap gathered are tallied for each team; penalties include spilled or missed buckets, and horse/teamster mishaps.
As the actual running of the sap has passed, volunteers filled the buckets with water before each team came through. One of those kind helpers was my daughter Hannah. It was cold but sunny and this year there was no snow to contend with. This made it easier on the sap runners but harder on the horses to pull the sleds, particularly when the tank on the back was full and they were racing up the hill to the finish.
I was there to cheer on my friends George and Mary and their winning team. The two runners hustled, leaping off the sled and dashing ahead to fill their buckets, dumping them into the tank as George drove his mother/daughter team of draft horses.
Here are some shots from the day:
Of course the day would not be complete without the winner’s prize and Hanni falling in love with a new friend…
After all, it wasn’t about gathering sap, it was about people gathering to enjoying a day in the life…