Here in the woods of Central Pennsylvania, a little nature center known as Shaver's Creek celebrates their annual Maple Harvest Festival this weekend. As much as we may be an indoor culture nowadays, we clocked over 900 people Saturday and 600 and counting today - and about 5,000 pancakes each day, served with Grade A Maple Syrup.
Although I only stopped by today to hang out and see all the stations and grab the meal that I missed out the day before, on Saturday I was "Clarence", from 1850, with my hot wife "Martha" and "Neighbor Levi" and "Cousin Noah," manning the Cultural History station - complete with a cauldron of hot sap, stories about how the Native Americans discovered Maple sugaring, and a chance for kids to make their own Sumac spiles on an authentic shaving horse. I don't know how many times I told the story about Woksis:
"There was a Native American and his name was Woksis. He on a hunt of epic proportions, tracking an elusive goat - hatchet in hand, so close he could almost smell it. Then all of a sudden a storm did come overhead, a storm that lasted only five minutes, no more no less - but enough to wash away all the tracks and any hope old Woksis had of finding the goat on this day. Frustrated as you imagine he might be, he stuck his hatchet in the nearest tree and did sit down under it to take a nap. And he did have a most peculiar dream: that his wife, much like my own beautiful wife Martha here, cooked the day's meat in a most sugary water; and when he bit into that meat he found it so succulent and delicious he could not believe his taste buds. Then he did wake up to find that from where he stuck his hatchet in the tree, Maple sap was dripping onto his head and down his cheek. Thus HE discovered maple sugaring--"
Martha interjects: "Darlin', you do tell that story well, but you keep forgetting the most important part! -- it was his WIFE, who was collecting water in her pail, who saw her lazy husband napping under a tree, and saw this substance trickling down his cheek, and tasted it, and thought to collect it to cook the meat in - which he did not even have to bring home for dinner!"
(That usually garnered some chuckles. "Martha" was downright awesome as her character, bickering about with me all day long. We must have told this story - hell, 40 times over the course of five hours. Perhaps more.)
Not Martha. (All pictures here are from Sunday.)
Any-hoo, there was plenty more to be had at other stations:
"Tree ID" offered visitors a chance to inspect what makes trees different from one another, with magnifying glasses positioned over Sugar and Red Maple buds, fun ways for kids to tell the difference between Alternate and Opposite branching patterns, and took willing families into the woods to inspect some different trees.
The "Tapping" station gave a little history of various tools used to collect sap over the years, from Native Americans slashing the trees and collecting sap in a wooden trough, to early Sumac spiles (the pith burns right out with a hot poker! Perfect!) and metal buckets with lids, to current methods of thin metal spiles and tubing running into plastic jugs.
Finally, the "Sugar Shack" was up and running, demonstrating the evaporation equipment used nowadays to actually boil sap (which is only 2% sugar) down to syrup. There, too, there was a tasting table set up for folks to see if they can tell the difference between the real stuff and Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth and Wal-Mart brand. I did provide some relief today at this station and was stunned at one girl's ability to name specifically every single sample - her mom said, "She's VERY particular about her syrup!"
Besides all this, there was reptile presentations going on in a classroom with snakes and turtles; folks wandering about the raptor center with owls on their arms for closer inspection; live music from local artists strewn all about; several folks leading bird walks on the trails - and, of course, all-you-can-eat pancakes. The number of volunteers - some manning stations as credit for classes, others helping cook and serve and clean, or guide traffic for parking, or other logistics - was astounding. Surely there were at least 60 people helping out each day.
I really have little reason to post this except for my pure excitement for the festival - if you're in the Central Pennsylvania area, you should make a point to visit! If not, heck, you should just get out there and visit your local nature center. There tend to be some fantastic people hanging around them.
As Margot demonstrates with six layers, it was pretty cold today.