I drove through shafts of sunlight that pierced the canopy of maples and hemlocks and speckled the bending two-lane weaving through villages blighted by an unhealthy number of “For Sale” signs. The canoe shop for purchase in Long Lake New York made me question my own plans for the future but I refocused and continued driving north. I am told financial times have been hard for residents of the Adirondacks for years. I didn’t see many employment opportunities in route to our destination, Tupper Lake, but a visit to The Wild Center provided an ember of hope.
The Wild Center, a museum in Tupper Lake New York, began a program to encourage locals to take a step back in time, to return to tapping maple trees and boiling down the sap to make maple syrup. The museum reports that the art of making maple syrup, a skill taught to Europeans by the Indians, had disappeared in the Adirondacks over just one generation. Today slightly less than half a percent of the usable maples are being tapped and with real maple syrup selling for forty-three dollars per gallon in New York state (seventy-one dollars a gallon in Connecticut per USDA) learning the trade could give some of those struggling to make a living in the Adirondacks another option.
Thanks to the Wild Center’s Maple Syrup program families and potential entrepreneurs have gone from producing no maple syrup to producing hundreds of gallons a year. But making maple syrup is not easy work; it requires tramping around in freezing temperatures and tending evaporators day and night to boil forty gallons of sap down to one gallon of syrup. However for some people it’s the right fit and has given them a chance to stay where they were born or want to be, the rural and beautiful Adirondacks of upstate New York. Currently New York imports four times as much maple syrup as it produces. If Franklin County could raise its utilization of maple trees from it’s current, less than a half a percent level to nearly three percent, Vermont’s level, the economic impact on the county would jump from $300,000 to over $4,000,000 annually. Some locals see the potential of the idea including one teenager who has gone from tapping zero trees five years ago to tapping over 3,000 trees today. Others just want to tap enough to have local syrup on their pancakes and the museums mobile sugar shack allows them to do that.
A little further east, in New Hampshire, my wife and I visited her brother at a Buddhist monastery and along the way stopped at a small dairy store that works on the honor system. The store is attached to one end of the barn and contains a few coolers, pens and envelopes. The customer parks, visits with the farm cat a bit, pokes his head in the barn to admire the cows then walks inside the store, picks out the cheese, ice cream or milk he wants, puts his money in an envelop and drops it in the cash box. It is a refreshing way to do business.
Our last stop was the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca New York. While there I captured a few photographs of Sue, her parents and her brother. I am sure you can figure out who’s who.