We are at Stonewall Farm in Keene on a crisp and clear late-March morning—Rebecca, Mark, Ellinore and her friends Madison and Carrie. We arrived about ten, already having been down to West Springfield for Ellinore’s 7:30 championship hockey game. (We won!)
Every year in March Stonewall Farm—the nonprofit working farm for which Rebecca served a short interim term as Executive Director—holds a Sap Gathering Contest. A number of years ago, Rebecca mentioned to the farm manager, Glenn Yardley, that she would love to sign on as a gather some day. And this would be that day: as he called earlier in the week he called to say that Sonny, an old New Englander from Windham, Maine and his two Belgians, Pete and Jim, were looking for a couple of sap gatherers.
Sixteen teams were registered and we drew the sixth slot. After meeting Sonny and his wife Jodi (both in their mid-seventies, he the most senior driver at the event) and their stunning pair of Belgians Pete and Jim (over nineteen hands, at least) we walked the course and tied to get a sense of what we were doing. There were 40 buckets—a total of 120 gallons of sap to collect. Points would be awarded for overall time, the teamster and horses, and total elapsed time. Pete and Jim pulled a sled with a large vat to hold the sap (water, actually) that would then be unloaded into a tank behind the sugar house.
We crossed the start line on the sled and then jumped off and ran into the woods, looking for the buckets along the hillside and along the creek. I went high and Rebecca low, unhooking each bucket, pouring out the sap, replacing the bucket on the hook, and then moving to the next tap. There were clusters of buckets and then an open field. We ran ahead of the team and began filling as Sonny, Pete and Jim, pulled up the rear.
At the end we hopped back on the sled and crossed the finish line in just over twelve minutes, within a minute of the top time. We managed to gather 112 gallons of sap in all (the best, as I recall, was 116), with some slopped out on the sides and down Rebecca’s shirt. When we left Stonewall, we had the fourth highest points score, so were still in the ribbons.