Earliest ever: Hillgrove maple syrup producer looks back over 60 springs

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By Jonathan Riley - Digby Courier 
HILLGROVE, N.S. – Boiling sap is a tradition in Larry Goodwin’s family.

Larry Goodwin can look back over 60 odd springs of boiling sap. Jonathan Riley photo

He taps about 75 trees in Hillgrove, up on the ridge above Digby, enough to make a little syrup for his family and good friends.

He can look back over 60 odd springs and this is by far the earliest he has ever started making maple syrup.

His sap-sense started tingling in mid-February this year and he lit his first fire under the evaporator on Feb. 22.

Except for 2010, when he lit the fire on Feb. 27, it has always been at least March before he started.

“In the old days you could pretty much count on it being within a day or two of March 15,” he says. “That’s just the way it was.”

Goodwin remembers being outside with his grandfather, cutting wood for the fire when he was four years old.

“They made me a little pull saw from a piece of broken blade. I can remember it like it was yesterday. The wood was frozen hard and the saw slipped and I cut my finger open,” he says. “I went into the woods so they wouldn’t see because I was scared they’d take my saw away.”

Goodwin couldn’t get the bleeding to stop and had to go inside to get fixed up. The doctor came out from Digby to sew it up.

“And they didn’t take my saw away,” Goodwin finishes the story with a satisfied smile and a quiet laugh.

These are the stories you hear in Goodwin’s sugar shack, about 200 metres behind his house in Hillgrove. The same house his grandfather, Joe Foster, lived in.

In his grandfather’s day they always boiled sap outside.

“It seemed we had a lot more fine days then,” says Goodwin.

He first noticed things changing in the 1970s, the season getting earlier, the weather getting wetter.

He finally had enough in 1996.

“It was an awful day, wet and muddy, and we were outside around the fire and I just said that’s it, I’m not putting up with this anymore, and I went and got a shovel and started digging holes for the posts,” he says.

It’s comfy in the sugar shack with a warm fire and the sweet smell of maple in the air.

Goodwin has a couple chairs, even a cot and a sleeping bag if he needs a nap, and he has Louis Lamour novels tucked into the shack’s framing.

The frames also hold about three or four dozen pine shingles with numbers and dates scribbled on them.

Goodwin keeps track of how many buckets of sap he pours into the evaporator, how much syrup he takes off and when he lights the fire.

He has pine shingles going back to 1997.

This year was his earliest fire but last year was his latest.

His first fire last year was March 29 and it was probably too early – he had some visitors coming to tour his sugar shack and lit the fire for them.

After they left, he let the fire go out for a few days and didn’t start for real until a couple days into April.

“The snow was so deep last year I had to shovel down to find the top of the stairs into the sugar shack,” he says. “ I had real trouble getting to my woodpile – I had a tarp over it and three feet of snow on top of the tarp. Last year you couldn’t go far without snowshoes.”

In fact, snowshoes used to always be a requirement for tapping trees but Goodwin needs them less and less as the years go by.

“Fishing season always used to start April 15 and as a kid I don’t remember there not being banks of snow along the road up here in Hillgrove,” he says. “Now it starts April 1 and it’s rare if we have much snow left.”

jriley@digbycourier.ca

Geographic location: Hillgrove

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