Monday, March 23, 2009

White Earth: Straight from the Sugarbush

Let's see. This is Lora. I am sitting in the Ice Cracking Tavern with Orin, Eric, and Maggie right now before a 17-bar wide game of Bingo after a hard day's work. The work started early though, yesterday.

Nancy, Christy, Eric, Steph, and Miriam all went to Itasca Park. For those of you not well-versed in MN terrain, that's the supposed origin of the Mississippi. There's a culture center there where they got to get a good look at the history of territories and their distribution throughout the state.
Patrice, Orin, Nick, Maggie, and myself all went to help Ron, the site coordinator for the White Earth Land Recovery Project. They had been tapping since last Saturday and it was time to collect. So out we went with two 5-gallon buckets a piece and started emptying the bags and buckets hanging on the maples. Knee-high snow and about 4,000 taps, but the rest of the crew had been working since early morning. We set in about 10:30.
"The Sugar Shack"
I found out quickly that I did not have appropriate boots and had to sit in the lodge where they cook the sap. We had collected approximately 900 gallons of sap by lunch break and ended up with 2,700 total by the end of the day. Every fifteen minutes they had to load more wood into the furnace to boil the 200 gallons that fit into the large metal pool for sap. It takes about 3 hours to cook the sap, depending on the humidity level. Every 40 gallons of sap makes a gallon of syrup, because it's about 3% sugar content/level. That's a lot of gallons and hours for that sweet sweep sap. But we each got a finger's worth of taste this morning and it was great. Much of what we collected may have been thaw Ron said.
The trees aren't flowing today because it is too cold and if it doesn't freeze at night, and the sun doesn't heat things up to about 40 degrees, things kind of slow down. It was a drizzly day, but we gathered with the St. Thomas crew and broke into two groups. One group tromped around checking for bags with holes in them and tapping more trees. The other group, of which I was a part of, went and collected wood that had been chopped intermittently in the woods. I'll tell you, there was a great deal of heaving and ho'ing going on and all our shoulders a bit more knotted than before. It was pretty profound to be grateful to sit down on a stump now and again.

Lastnight, to preface our whole-hearted dive into the work we read a speech by Winona LaDuke, taking turns, and set intentions for the trip. It was a good way to support eachother's experience and to see a little deeper into the character of each person we are living with for a week.

Ron has been this wonderful initiator, he's got ridiculous jokes and an everpresent laugh that brings everyone along. He is great at explaining the painstaking amount of effort it takes to make this syrup without making me feel ungrateful. He just emphasizes, 'there's much to do.' And we set in, working from about 9-5 today.

Nancy has been a welcome presence, and I thought I'd post the ingredients Five-Minute Artisan Bread that she has so graciously made for us:

-1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast 9about 1-1/2 packets)
-1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
-6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough

I guess I'm not going to post the prep cause I am feeling a bit fatigued, but if you're interested just reply and I can make that happen.

I don't have the recipe with me right now for dinner lastnight but I assure you the cooscoos (the food so nice they named it twice, oh yeah, I went there) that Patrice prepared was DELICIOUS. Mhm.

We have had a few, okay, a great number of ridiculous moments.
Yesterday we tried to turn around in the van at the end of the day and got suctioned in by the mucky mud. Orin, our 'life coach' as I've taken to calling him, helped guide Nick's driving and we all got out and pushed.

Then, riding on the 'sap sleigh' (a horse-drawn sleigh that holds a huge tub for the sap we collect in giant tubs dispersed in the woods) about 4 of us were pitched off into the snow when the horses picked up speed (Rosebud and Andeg which in Ojibawe means 'Crow', not the other faithful steeds Bonnie and Clyde).

And this morning, on our way back from the office where Ron met us, St. Thomas' van sank through the water-deteriorateed dirt road. Luckily, Ron, his truck, and a strong rope were with us. With a push and Ron's four-wheel-drive, they were freed and we set to the woods.

When I say we hauled wood, I mean that wood was hauled. First, you pitch it close enough to fill the plastic sled you have with you. Then, if you're lucky, there's enough snow to pull the sled easily to the dirt road and make a pile for the sleigh to come collect. They stack it on the sleigh, pull it to just outside the Sugar Shack and set to splitting the big pieces. Most of the wood today was wet and will have to dry while they use the older wood from the massive pile.

Well, Bingo just ended, no winners at this table. I think Nick's at the grocery store to replenish our stock and then he's cooking fajitas for us. I look forward to it with a greatful mind, body, and soul. I think I can safely say the same for the rest of the group.

To all the committed hearts,
Lora, the White Earth Spokespersonage

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