New England winters can be interminable. By the time February rolls around, the skies are gray and the snow is brown. March shows signs of warmer weather as thin sheets of ice stretch across the frozen mud. I understand why some people don’t like this time of year. But growing up, the weeks between Presidents’ Day and St. Patrick’s Day were a sweet, golden amber dream known as maple syrup season.
By the age of seven, I was an integral part of the sugaring operations at Maple Grove Farm in North Guilford, Connecticut. Maple sugaring was a family affair, and each one of us had an important role to play.
While I loved being a tour guide, the best time of day was after the visitors left. My cousins, nine and eleven, and I would go with my grandfather to collect the sap. The two boys would dump buckets of sap into the collection tank on the trailer. I sat with my grandfather, occasionally steering the big green John Deere tractor through the fields. As the sun set, we would finish collecting the sap and head back to the sugar house. Sometimes we’d have pancakes for dinner, with a little bit of hot maple syrup drawn right from the evaporator. Other times we’d have chili or stew – which meant that dessert would be a maple syrup taffy made by pouring maple syrup onto fresh snow and letting it chill enough to become a sweet, flexible treat.
My grandfather died in 1984, a few months shy of my tenth birthday. As good Yankees, we didn’t talk about everything we had lost. Instead, we tapped trees, hung buckets, strung up tubing and stacked the wood that would fuel the evaporator. These simple acts gave us a sense of purpose and brought us together at a time when the strain of caring for my grandmother, who had severe Alzheimer’s, threatened to tear the family apart completely. In that small sugar house, over stacks of pancakes smothered in hot syrup, we shared our stories – breaking with one tradition while upholding another.
Erica Holthausen escaped from a Boston law firm in 2001 and never looked back. Today, she is the Chief Instigator behind the Honest Marketing Revolution, where she serves as a marketing strategist for service-based microbusinesses. She works with the smallest of small businesses to help them clarify their message, share it with the right audience, and serve more clients. She is also co-producer of Micro Biz Weekly, a video podcast for microbusinesses. When she isn't working, she can be found reading a book, writing a story, planning her next adventure, or enjoying a good meal and conversation with friends.