Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Sweetness of Spring (maple Syrup)

It has been a few years since my family has really made maple syrup. Oh, we played at it by tapping one tree--just enough to show my children how it was done and give them a chance to taste the “genuine nectar" which also caused the family to divide into two camps. There are those who like real maple syrup and those who don’t. The score is two to four by the way. I will leave you guessing which is which.

With one of the children interested  in making more than just a couple of pints of syrup this year, we upped the ante to eight buckets on varying trees. Not trying for that business level, but definitely willing to put more effort into it than previous years. Grandpa pitched in with a loan of spiles and sap buckets with lids. We are moving up(!) from our years of milk jugs, open buckets, and spiles made from our elderberry tree.

As usual, we had good intentions, but it took us awhile to gather it all together and get out there. The unexpected early warm weather was not helping those who procrastinated either. But we did get out there and collected it faithfully twice a day, even if it meant working by flashlight. Oh the anticipation of the unknown, what will you find? Will the sap level be a fulfilling surprise or a little disappointing? Why is the unknown of a sap bucket something to look forward to, but the unknowns in life bring frustration, worry, and anxiety? Hmmm... I might need to think about that awhile. Even the adults enjoyed the twice a day dose of "Christmas" expectancy that happened when the sap lid was slid back to reveal the contents within. Oh Lord, please help me "see" and enjoy the small daily wonders that You have placed  in Your world for me to discover and find amazement in. Help me not to rush through life and overlook the personal touches of Your love that You have surrounded me with.

Usually we boil the sap most the way down over the wood stove in the basement, bringing it up stairs to cook down once it reaches the stage of careful watching. However the warm weather was working against that plan, and most of it was boiled down in our kitchen. We tried to use the wood cook stove one day, but ended with roasted people long before we ever got to the end of boiling the syrup.

The day with the biggest haul of sap started out with sparks of delight in my son's eyes, and ended with fiery darts shooting from my eyes. I fell asleep and woke up to a house full of smoke caused by the maple syrup I had charred. It was so bad I am still not sure I can save the pan. I was sooo mad at myself for ruining my son's joy, but thankfully he is like his Dad so his only comment was, "It is just syrup, Mom."

We have brought our syrup making season to a close with the total of seven pints this year. The total would of been much higher if mom hadn't of tried to make burnt offerings. The boys got to visit their second cousin's real sap operation which has fed the dreams and plans for next year. Along with visions of using Grandpa's long sap pan that was found in a shed.

There is a sadness in knowing Grandpa's sap making days have gone, but also a joy in knowing that a grandson is interested in not only hearing the stories of old but of working towards carrying on a tradition. Seeing my son hand Grandpa a pint of syrup made from this spring's sap run was truly a moment of sweetness for me.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rawhide Ramblings

Creativeness and the love of learning new things is something that has deep roots in many of my family members. Some years ago my husband had the longing to try to make some parfleche items (items made from raw hide). Parfleche is a French word the trappers and traders used to describe these items, not what the Native Americans themselves called them. Obviously, there are not many books on this at the local library, and it was back in the days before so much information was available online. So after doing what research he could on line and acquiring some gorgeous adult “picture” books on  parfleched items.  He was ready to try his hand at making something.   He made a knife sheath which I thought turned out rather cool. Remember I am not biased or anything, just a loving, supportive wife. lol

He also studied about and made one flat case with long braintan fringe (Probably reserved for special items) , one parleche envelope (Though these were usually made in pairs from the rump of the animal.) These were his first attempts and they have traveled to different events to be shared with people, but  those who I love sharing the history about them  most  are children.  Opening the envelope up and explaining that this would have been like a suitcase that they might of traveled with or kept their possessions in, and then asking the children how many of their toys and treasures would it hold really awakes a child’s visual image of differences between the mass of possessions we accumulate today to the few and dear things treasured in the past. I always tell them to look for the parfleche items in the old pictures. Explaining that sometimes they will be leaning up against something and sometimes stacked up so you only see them from the side.

Rawhide can come from different animals. My husband used cow, however I do have one small flat case that he made from Caribou raw hide.  It is much softer. My research has told me that  buffalo rawhide is much more pliable then cow and would have made better envelopes and flat cases. (I hope to some day actually feel the difference with my own hands.) Sadly, once the Native American people were confined and no longer had access to the buffalo they started making rawhide trunks and boxes from cow hides. (The quality of their work was still amazing!) This is probably the result of two things. One, the cow raw hide available to them was much stiffer and worked better for trunks and boxes, and two, they were forced to leave their nomadic style of life which benefited by the use of the flat cases and envelopes instead of the rectangle shaped boxes and trunks.

I can't say that my husband ever got into making many prafleche items, but the few he did make encouraged me to learn the history about them, and appreciate the work that went into them. When I study the pictures of the original parfleche work I marvel at the artistic ones (usually women) who found a way to bless their world with beautiful, personalized, and useful items.

According to the book The American Indian Parfleche by Gaylord Torrence: "These beautiful containers are most closely associated and probably originated with the peoples of the Great Plains, where they were integral to the nomadic way of life, providing a means to store and transport a family's food and possessions. They were made by women from more than forty tribes..."

Note: I am not Native American. I live in the Eastern part of the United States of American. I love history and have done some research on the Parfleche items used is the west, however I am limited to what knowledge I can find in books so if you have better knowledge about any of these items or know how to link me up with a more accurate source of knowledge please share with me. I am always learning, and am very much aware that some of what is recorded in the old books is not always labeled and described correctly.

                                                             A mini one just for fun.