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  • When Carly was in Kindergarten we lived in Shelburne Vermont and I worked as a caretaker for one of the premier families in the US. One of the families with major architectural edifices, foundations and institutions named after them.

    They flew us up to look the place over and interview for the job. He talked about setting up an organic farm and beginning a business. An all-expenses paid organic venture fantasy. It seemed perfect.

    The reality was more Good Housekeeping gone survivalist rural chic. I swept out the fireplace each morning when they were there and laid a new set of kindling and logs just so. Cleaned the house, three times a week when they weren’t there. Mowed the lawn in summer, making sure to walk so I left aesthetically pleasing patterns arcing round about the lawn. Raked leaves in the fall. Tended perennial beds and weeded the long gravel driveway. Picked up the scattered towels form the bathroom floor and made beds with tight hospital corners. Got a lesson in folding sheets. Was sent down to vacuum the beams in the basement ceiling. A regular round of the things one does around the house.

    In addition to all the more mundane facets of taking care, the guy was seriously sure that the established order was coming to an end. He had me do extensive research and write a long paper detailing issues, opportunities, obstacles, a full-on threat analysis of what would happen if the shit really hit the fan and ‘they’ poured out of the urban areas.

    Basically I figured he was fucked because when that went down all deals would be off. His assumption that my sense of loyalty, dedication and responsibility would extend past Armageddon was as unbelievable as the thought of his wispy boys manning the barricades, rifles at the ready, to repel the urban barbarian horde. Suspending disbelief I focused on developing independence in terms of food production. Fun stuff; creating a large organic garden, raising chickens, keeping bees and a turkey or two or three.

    I did it all. Put up jar after jar of honey and comb, put in a thousand seedlings, loaded the freezer with stocky roasters, and did the deed to three 30-pound tom turkeys.

    They ate a few salads, mauled the peas, trampled the beans, rooted around in the potatoes because the books all talked about new potatoes for the Fourth of July. I eyed the dishevelled plants and sighed.

    Do you think there’s time to replant, he asked.

    The honey was too dark because I planted buckwheat as a cover crop in the acre of new garden.

    The roasters were too big, she said. Why don’t you eat the rest.

    We ate chicken for a year.

    I Fedex-ed a flash frozen turkey for Thanksgiving but it malfunctioned. Turned out it was too big for the oven in their gourmet’s wet dream kitchen back in San Francisco.

    But the best was the maple syrup. Each spring when the days just began to warm I went out to the maple orchard and set taps in about 100 trees. They wanted it the old fashioned way so I hung buckets from every tap and slogged through the slush and ice for a month or so in March carrying the slopping full buckets of ice cold sap out to a collecting tank in the back of my beat up pick-up.

    Sap boils down to syrup at a ratio of about 40 to 1. That is a lot of steam. And a lot of wood burned. And a lot of nights tending the fire to a constant roar and the sap to a rolling roiling boil.

    I filled an old chair with blankets and Carly cuddled in after helping as long as she could. As the night got later and colder only her eyes peeped out, sparkling like two stars come to earth.

    Sometimes I read out loud. I read Huck Finn with all the voices and dialects. Reading to the night and a sleeping child.

    Sometimes we watched shows on a tiny black and white TV.

    Sometimes we just watched the fire through the cracks in the stove and the swirling steam and the tremendous glitter of stars above. We drank the ice cold sap and sipped hot mugs of watery syrup and watched the bubbles rise and fall.

    Late, late in the night I’d carry her in, swaddled in the blankets and deposit her in her own bed. Then I’d finish off the syrup, tapping it off from the evaporator, running it through the cloth filter in the big stainless steel can.

    The next day I’d test it for grade. Grade A or B, Light Amber or Dark Amber. Early in the year it is clear and pale then, as the trees move to bud, the syrup becomes as dark as old motor oil. I decanted it into the cute log cabin tins, capped them, and stacked them away down cellar.

    They took home a few tins of the clearest, palest syrup.

    That older syrup is so industrial, he told me.

    It’s so….. crude, she added.

    We had it in yoghurt and on ice cream. In our coffee. Drank it straight out of the jug.

    I gave away gallons of it. Took it as host and hostess gifts everywhere we went. I left 5 gallons on Dickie’s doorstep when we went back and visited the folks in the Maine one time.

    When we left the farm the cellar was still piled high with neatly stacked cans and jugs.

    When the end comes they’ll have a little sweetness left.
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