Friday, April 9, 2010

Maple Sugar Festival

Last month, GeekBoy and I ventured out into the world to attend the Maple Sugar Festival at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. Turns out that Audubon, PA is kind of named after him, because he lived there. Who knew? And I grew up and spent the majority of my adult life in this area. Impressive, huh?

Back to the sweets.

Turns out, there are a bunch of Sugar Maple trees on the grounds of Mr. Audubon's estate. (his dad owned the place and sent the younger Mr. Audubon there to oversee it at age 18) They tap them once a year, when the weather is just about right - cool overnight and into the early morning, warming up through the mid morning and day. It gets the sap flowing, as it were.

We wandered around for a few hours and were quite pleasantly surprised by the place.

The main drive is lined with the Sugar Maple trees. Most of them had these galvanized steel buckets hanging from them, collecting the sap.

I tried to get a shot of the sap dripping off of the little spout in the tree. You can kind of see it.

We were allowed to stick our fingers under the spout and taste the sap as it came out - it's really not very sweet. Kind of like a sugar water.

Because you are dying to see in the bucket, I took a picture of that too. You're welcome.

There were a few working exhibits that demonstrated how maple sap was collected and used different times throughout history. At the Native American sugaring spot, it showed that they used wooden troughs and straws to collect the sap and then hot stones in the trough to evaporate out the water, leaving the maple sugar.

In the 18th century, they boiled the sap in big metal pots and moved it to higher or lower temperatures depending on at what point in the process it was.
Did you know that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup?
I didn't either, but I do now.

Moving right along.....
On our way to the big house, we passed this guy. He was taste testing real maple syrup against that 'pancake syrup' stuff. It was pretty easy to tell the difference, at least for me. Some people seemed to be having a bit of a hard time, I'm not sure if they really were confused, or if they were putting a show on for their kids. Because, yeah, kids love it when you act a fool for their benefit. So do I.

From the tasting station, we moseyed on down the path to see what was happening over that way.
There was another demonstration going on, this one more akin to the modern day making of maple syrup.
Seems there's really only one way to do it - evaporate out the water to leave the maple sugar.

The different grades of the syrup were also explained to us. It seems that the fancy syrup is the lightest. I had no idea. Learn something new every day.
The Center at Mill Grove also has CRITTERS! (owls, actually)

Look at him! Isn't he cute? And very well behaved. I want one.
The owls have their own building on the grounds where they are kept. Each one of them has been rescued and wouldn't make it out in the wild on their own. If I remember correctly, they all have vision problems.

One of the volunteers talked to the group of us that had been milling about around the owl house about them for a little while. She was going in to put one of the owls out into the screened enclosure so he could get some fresh air. Of course we had to go around to the enclosure to see.

Aw. Owlie. He's actually missing an eye, which sucks. What does not suck is that he gets to live at Mill Grove and is well looked after. That cord hanging down from his bottom is a tether that's tied to his leg. It was actually kind of funny to watch him try to get away from the caretaker while she held on to it, when she was putting him out. Poor guy.

The grounds of the Center are beautiful. I imagine that it was a wonderful place to live. There is something about having a body of water on your house property that I really like - I'm not sure why.

More owl pictures.

I couldn't get enough of these little guys. We have some owls in our woods, but we never see them, we just hear the hoot-owl once in a while.

We finally made it into the actual house. John James Audubon was REALLY into birds. On a bit of an esoteric level. I like them too - we have an assload of feeders set up and I'm forever whipping out my bird book to see what each one is. Sometimes I take pictures of them. Maybe I will show them to you at some point.

His house was filled with paintings and drawings of birds, his journals, and many different stuffed and mounted specimens. (is that right? it doesn't look right)

Here we have a display of duck-like birds that are native to the property. Mr. Audubon most likely wrung their little necks himself. I can't remember if it told us that or not. I'm making a guess.

The walls of the main hallway and up the stairs were covered in this kind of cool mural that depicted all sorts of winged things.

A bat! I LOVE bats - they eat bugs. We installed a bat house last year on the side of our house. No residents yet, but I keep checking. They say it can take a while for them to move in - something about the smell needing to wear off of the cedar. Whatever, all I know is that I want me some bat residents. Please.

More drawn and stuffed (and sculpted) birds.

We got to peek in his boudoir as well. Canopy bed and everything. With macrame trim.

And bird stuff. Everywhere.

The man himself. This room had a lot of kids in it so we left pretty much as quickly as we could.

Lots of stuffed birdies in this room.

I'm not familiar with what it feels like to have an all-consuming hobby or career, so the level of effort that Audubon put into this stuff is a bit foreign to me. I can't imagine what his days were like. Although, if I was being basically supported by his dad, who knows what kind of trouble I could get into with my Hostas.

My favorite - the bald eagle. They just look so freaking badass. And they're HUGE. You can't tell it from this picture, but trust me. Big bird.

That's it for the house. On our way to the all-you-can-eat pancake deal, we passed one of these birdhouses with the 'Bird Habitat' sign on it.

Turns out that you can register your property with the PA Audubon Society as a Bird Habitat, if you've got the right plants (which you can always install) and cover and food for them and available water and you're not using pesticides or anything else detrimental to the feathered folks. Well, shit. I think we might just qualify. Just in case though, I've got a spot out back that I plan to rip the ivy out of (removing invasive non-native plants - WIN!) and replant with native plants that birds and the insects that birds like, like. (vocabulary FAIL)

Then there's a test I have to take to see if we've got what it takes to get one of them there cool signs. I'll let you know how it goes.

Finally, we found our way to the pancakes. Yum. And they served them with the real maple syrup - which we then bought some of. Of course. And maple sugar candy. Mmmmmmm.

I just ate lunch, but now I'm hungry again.

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