Yes, National Maple Syrup Day is a real thing…and if it wasn’t, it should be!
Maple syrup, you see, is something we northern New Englanders take very seriously. Vermonters think their’s is the best, Mainers think theirs is the best, and here in New Hampshire we know they’re both wrong. 😉
Just the concept of taking what is basically sugar water, pouring it out of a tree, boiling it down until most of the water evaporates, and then packaging it up is pretty amazing, if you think about it.
Maple syrup production is so ubiquitous around here, we even tapped trees while I was in college.
And by “we,” I mean my roommates.
We found the largest maple tree on the Castleton(VT) State College campus (right in front of the admissions office, Reed House), pounded a couple of metal taps into its side, and hung an industrial-size soup can we grabbed from the dining hall. Since our hot plate would not generate nearly the amount of heat necessary to boil down enough sap for even one pancake – it takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup – we simply kept the sap in our fridge and drank it whenever we were thirsty.
But the really funny thing? Administration never took our tap down! Our can stayed there the entire sugaring season, from around late Feb. through late March…and it wasn’t like we tapped it in a hard-to-find, obscure spot. It was right in front of the admissions office, in plain view for all to see! Any prospective students visiting the college with their parents were sure to see our setup…and since no news is good news, we assumed the college was agreeable to our plan.
So to celebrate today’s national spotlight on all things maple, I thought I’d share one of my favorite poems from former N.H. state poet laureate – and former U.S. Poet Laureate – the late Donald Hall, who used to live just half an hour north of me. Interestingly, the poem begins in the month of August, when maple syrup is probably the last thing on anyone’s mind:
August, goldenrod blowing. We walk
into the graveyard, to find
my grandfather’s grave. Ten years ago
I came here last, bringing
marigolds from the round garden
outside the kitchen.
I didn’t know you then.
among carved names that go with photographs
on top of the piano at the farm:
Keneston, Wells, Fowler, Batchelder, Buck.
We pause at the new grave
of Grace Fenton…
(Read the rest of the poem HERE)
Hall says so much in these lines…”I didn’t know you then,” so we know this person is close to him but not soemone with whom he has a long history…”carved names that go with the photographs,” so we know these graves are all people the speaker has a connection to…we know someone has recently died. The richness of backstory of the characters and the emotions with which he imbues these scenes are just staggering.
I hope you read the rest of the poem and enjoy it. For more poetry, be sure to visit Jone MacCulloch’s little home on the web, where she’s hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup!
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16 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Celebrating National Maple Syrup Day with the late Donald Hall”
Wonderful poem (new to me)! Enjoyed hearing about your maple syrup tapping days. I’ve only had Vermont and Canadian maple syrup — no preference, really, it’s all good. 🙂
You haven’t had maple syrup until you’ve had New Hampshire maple syrup. 😉 But yes, it’s all good – and way better than the abominations of nature known as Log Cabin and Mrs. Butterworth. 😀
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LC and MB are more sugar syrup with only a little maple added. Give me the pure stuff anytime.
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I guess I will need to look for NH syrup, right? I love the nostalgia of the poem, Matt, “sweetness preserved” feels like more than about syrup. And I love hearing of your antics in college. What fun to have done that & they let it stand! Best wishes for finally getting your book out & a very Merry Christmas to you & your family!
Thanks so much, Linda – Merry Christmas to you and your family, as well!
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I love maple syrup, but I don’t think I’ve had NH syrup. Thank you for sharing Donald Hall’s poem, and a big congratulations on your new picture book! I hope you and your family have a beautiful holiday!
Thanks, Linda, wonderful holiday wishes to you, too!
Thanks for sharing this gorgeous Donald Hall poem, I did read the whole thing and must find more of his poems…and also for your college story which is quite hilarious! Maple syrup… mmmmm. Merry Christmas to you and yours…
Merry Christmas to you, as well, Karen!
I love this Hall poem! The details of the things that people once alive leave behind is so evocative of New England, and fitting that maple syrup features in the end. Thank you for sharing this. I remember hearing Donald Hall read in Syracuse once, a very old white haired man with a very good sense of humor.
He was certainly a very unique character – and an incredible writer.
Fun fact (that I just looked up): Michigan produces more maple syrup than New Hampshire! Thanks for the Donald Hall poem–so good. I recently visited the nature center where I taught school groups many years ago, including making maple syrup, and saw sadly that the “saphouse tilts, nearly to the ground, like someone exhausted to the point of death,”
Such a sad, weary line, indeed. Interesting about Michigan – although I’m not surprised. I know Wisconsin and Pennsyvania, among other states, also produce more than New Hampshire. (Vermont produces more than half of all the syrup in the U.S., if you can believe that!) But, you know, we’re more about quality than quantity, 😉
Maple syrup in December?
Read the full poem and love it… love how he comes around with the imagery, first from the graveyard then to the root cellar and finding the syrup… nad the saphouse that’s caving in…
When my mom & stepdad moved here almost 50 years ago one of the neighbors had a saphouse and the whole neighborhood would gather there in the evenings while the sap was steaming, telling stories…
Precious. And delicious syrup.
Some wonderful memories, Yvona…and I think there’s something in that poem for everyone who reads it, whether or not they are from the area or live in a rural setting.