Sweet Contraband

Even by city standards, it was late for a weeknight meeting.  The wife quietly unlatched the trunk lid as I glanced about. She handed the tall, slim man the bag with the unlabelled contents.  I reiterated “you’ll need to think about how to get it across the border”.  The man seemed confident he could get it through to his west coast people on his next passage.  I knew when that sweet stuff hit the mean streets of San Diego, there’d be a sudden and irrepressible demand for more.  A demand he couldn’t satisfy.  “So, what‘s the story behind this stuff? he asked with seemingly genuine interest. “Having a story attached, helps with the sell” he explained.  I assured him I’d seen its creation personally, and knew the Cooker to be well experienced and affiliated with … a trusted associate of mine.  I reminded him, this stuff was concentrated beyond common standards. “Don’t underestimate it” I warned him, “this stuff will make you see angels”.  He smirked, with a self-satisfied look, and assured me he knew how to handle it.  As for me ?  I just wanted to get on Home, safe and sound.  This was a young man’s game, and I was an old dog.  No new tricks for me.  I’d done what I could to help get him started.  All I could do now was sit back and watch.  I couldn’t help but like the kid, and I hoped it would work out for him, as well as it did for me.  But … you never can tell how things will go … can ya ?  The tall slim man turned away, and melted into the darkness.  He wanted to impress his new US partner’s west coast “family” with a uniquely Canadian gift, and this was it.  Doug’s high concentrate maple syrup isn’t available at retail so it has no label.  Only his friends are allowed to experience it, and I …am considered a friend, and I … consider the tall young man, a friend.  Hence, his California girlfriend’s parents, will receive a bottle of the finest maple syrup humankind can make.  I only hope it will “cement” the deal for a lasting relationship between them.  All it cost me was a couple of giant puffballs, so what can I tell ya ?

As mentioned in an earlier posting, Ranger is one of MANY in his immediate family.  Most of his siblings didn’t fly too far from the nest either.  Therefore, I’m forever being introduced to members of his family.  I take pride in remembering their names better than I remember relations in my own clan of a mere 3 siblings.  One day Ranger suggested we swing by his sister and brother – in – law’s place for a stroll about their woodlot.  His sister Sharon gave us a tour.  She showed us a tree that was hit by lightning three days earlier.  It had split down the middle and blown the top off which landed right down beside the trunk.

tree blown apart by lightning

The following Spring, I suggested we go see a maple sugar operation just north of town.  Ranger suggested we swing by his sister and her husband’s place again as Doug ran a maple syrup shack.  We could get right up close and personal with the operation.  Of course, I was right in with that.  We drove up to the house, and there was the small building I’d seen the Summer before on our tour of the woodlot.  This time there was smoke blowing out the little chimney and a mess of cordwood stacked all around it.  Ranger introduced me to Doug, and so began my education in maple syrup production.  Doug was the virtual Encyclopaedia Britannica of maple syrup.  The shack was quite small. But it was all Doug needed to do the job, and do it well, he most certainly did.

It was a cool Spring day, and the temperature had been just right the night before.  It felt pleasantly warm in the shack with the steam billowing up from the sap pan into my face.  Kinda like an open-air sauna.  I wasn’t too surprised, but still somewhat disappointed, when the steam smelled of nothing.  Like most folks, I expected some sense of maple, but no such luck.  Doug continued to educate us with his vast knowledge, as it became obvious to me that this was not just a hobby to him.  It was a passion.

Steamy Shack

Doug doesn’t sell his high concentrate syrup at retail. He said there were too many maple syrup “connoisseurs” out there who all want something different.  His beliefs are so similar to my own,  I wish he were the other brother I never had (after the Ranger of course).  He literally gives away near 200 litres/year of his hard work so no one has right, nor cause, to criticize or bitch.   Basically, yer getting’ it for free so shut the Hell up !

I LOOOOOVE this guy’s attitude !!  But don’t read that wrong.  Doug is a great guy with a kindly and gentle demeanor.  He, like myself, just doesn’t care for A-holes who wouldn’t know a sugar maple from a tamarack telling him how it oughta be done.

The Syrup Shack

Also don’t go away thinking Doug’s sacrificing anything for attitude.  He practices the old barter system with this nectar of Keewatin.  All manner of deals have been made with unlabelled bottles exchanging hands.  Really, think about it folks.  We all know what maple syrup goes for at retail, and like my buddy with the California girlfriend figures, “having a story attached, helps with the sell”.  Being concentrated beyond retail level just makes it that much better.

So yes, Doug and Sharon are parting with hard earned valuables when they simply give-away this stuff.  Therefore, I felt honoured when, as I ran back to my truck for the camera, Sharon called me over and said “I know you’re a good friend of Ranger’s” and handed me a bottle of nectar.  Of course, she called him by his name, not Ranger.  But just for a moment, it stopped being about syrup, and became about friendship, and I like that.

The Spring and Summer passed with Ranger and I exploring and foraging, until that Fall day I caught sight of 3 giant puffballs out of my peripheral as we cruised down a back-road.  I kept one for myself and gave Ranger the others for sharing with Doug or whomever.  That’s how Ranger scored another bottle from Doug, which Ranger kindly passed onto me, which I passed onto my tall young friend, who will pass it onto his girlfriend’s visiting parents.

That’s how a bottle of special made Canadian maple syrup gets from the north shore of Lake Ontario to the southernmost tip of California (assuming he figures how to get the unlabelled bottle across the border).  That just might be a story for his blog.



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