When the Sap Begins to Run

February 23, 2023

When the sap starts running, my mind turns to thinking about living on a farm in New Hampshire.  I can describe the house in detail.  Old but structurally sound. You can enter through the grand front door that opens into a foyer at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the bedrooms on the second floor.  The entrance everyone uses is on the side of the house and has a screen door that bangs when it swings shut in the summer. This opens into a hallway where jackets, boots, sneakers, umbrellas, and even skates collect.  Year after year.

There is a fireplace in the kitchen. A large farm table fills the center of the room and has clearly been the gathering place for years. Laughter and tears of joy and great sadness dangle just above.  The cupboards and shelves are crammed with an assortment of dishes, although few match. The large windows look out onto the fields that are filled in the summer months with daisies, Black-Eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s Lace, clover, buttercups, and clumps of ferns. The same fields are hidden under blankets of white snow in the winter months, when the landscape is quiet.

The cozy living room has two sagging couches with woolen blankets draped over the arms. Shelves lined with books cover the walls.  Paintings collected over the years hang here and there or rest on the shelves. A faded and worn oriental rug covers the wooden floor. The upright piano is almost impossible to tune.  A barn kitty is curled quietly next to the fireplace.  A kerosene lamps sits on the corner of wooden desk, piled high with letters and papers.

Upstairs there are four bedrooms, spaces for friends to stay.  The mattresses are lumpy and uncomfortable, the bed frames are heavy mahogany.  Pull open the drawers in the bureaus and you will find hand knit sweaters, embroidered handkerchiefs, and flannel night gowns, for those nights when the cold seems to penetrate the room and it’s impossible to get warm.

This fantasy is driven by the thought of having maple trees at the perimeter of the fields. Watching these trees as they age.  Enjoying their exquisite beauty in the autumn when their leaves change to shades of gold and red.  Tapping the trees, collecting the sap, and boiling it down to syrup in the early spring.

Donald Hall, the poet who for years inhabited the family farm on Eagle Pond wrote a novella, entitled:  Christmas at Eagle Pond.  He takes us by the hand when he was just twelve years old, in 1940, and shares the experience of a magical Christmas at his grandparent’s farm. It is only when we read the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book we learn: “I wanted desperately to visit for Christmas, but it never worked out.”

It’s too late for me to ever think about living on a farm in New Hamsphire.  And, yet I keep this fantasy in my mind when I make pancakes and pour hot maple syrup over the stack. Then I imagine the place. Smell the burning logs. Shiver from the cold draft through the windows. Imagine being wrapped in a blanket on a lumpy couch reading a book.   Think about carrying in buckets of sap on a cold spring morning.

I wanted desperately to own a farm in New Hampshire, nestled in the shadow of the White Mountains and surrounded by rolling fields.  It never worked out.