Sasha and Maple
by: Mike Lushington  

I pulled the taps from the maple trees last week. More recently, I have finished boiling of the sap and I have our next year's supply of syrup stored in the cellar. It was, in all, a rather challenging spring for syrup making, at least in my experience. Part of the challenge lay in the fact that the travelling in the woods was trickier than it usually is in spring.

Some days the snow was hard frozen. On those days, the travelling was great. I could ski, or even walk, over the hard crust and Sasha could pull the sled with very little resistance. Unfortunately, the days when the travelling was best were often days when there was little sap - it was too clod for the trees to generate the energy to move it up through their roots into their branches. Conversely, those bright, sunny days when the sap did run also produced soft, mushy snow that made travelling even with snowshoes a real burden and forbade pulling the sled at all. On those days, the best strategy was to wade down to the trees in the late afternoon or early evening, collect the sap while it was still liquid and leave it by the side of the trail. Early the next morning, then, we would skim down over the refrozen crust and haul it out, half frozen in my large collecting jugs.

For both of us, the whole business became a chore - not a particularly onerous one, but work, nevertheless. Sasha has proven herself to be a capable sled dog - I was pleased with the way she accepted the routine and fell into the tricks of good sled hauling with only the occasional glitch. Mind you, some of those glitches were funny, while others were merely bothersome.

There was the time when we had a light load coming out of the woods. It was good going on the hardpacked trails, but very soft in the woods. we had only one half-filled jug, so I got the bright idea to load my jacket and snowshoes onto the sled and let her do the work, while I strolled along enjoying the sunshine and early spring warmth. That was until she suddenly spotted a squirrel scampering across the road. Have mentioned that Sasha has a thing about squirrels? Suddenly I realized that dog, sled, sap, jacket - and my snowshoes - were rapidly disappearing into a tangle of dead falls and other debris under a huge old spruce - the same spruce in which the squirrel was now happily perched , and from which was taunting Sasha. Worse, tree, squirrel, dog, sled, jugs and snowshoes were some fifty feet from the edge of the hard packed trail. Worse yet, dog and things were thoroughly tangled - and I had to get in there and free them. From that incident, I learned to carry my snowshoes if I didn't want to wear them.

In talking with others who have had some experience with sled dogs, I have learned that young dogs learn from old ones. Well, unless I discount myself from that category, Sasha has had to figure out a lot of things by herself. This old dog can only lead from the rear (if she will let me lead at all), so I have to be content, or at least patient, when she allows her own exuberance and curiosity to lead her from the straight and narrow into one bit of confusion or another.

In the end, it was a good experience for me - Sasha hasn't yet spoken on the topic, but I do notice that she is still willing to greet me each morning with that jump and bounce that says, "Let's go do something fun again today, Boss."


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