Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

Last week we had the first “sugar snow” of the winter. “Sugar snow” comes in February or March. Living in the snow-belt you get to see enough snow events to identify specific characteristics for snow. Sugar snow has large, fluffy snow flakes. It quickly builds up on the ground but compresses through out the day and it has an ephemeral feel to it. 

Many years ago while I was in college, I wrote a series of essays on the Inuit and Aleutian. I recall reading about how anthropologist were struggling to understand why these native people had at least twenty eight different names for snow, and then they realized they had names for 28 different kinds of snow! 

For whatever combination of reasons, sugar snow is unique to this time of year which happens to be the time to collect maple sap for making syrup.  

It was nearly forty years ago the first time I heard the term “Sugar Snow”. I was enamored with a certain young lady who was telling me about her life growing up the Lake Erie snow belt and how her best friends father made maple syrup. She described the sugar snow that would often fall at night or in the mornings during the late winter-early spring sugar season.  

She described a wonderful image of a late evenings at a remote sugar shack in a big woods, surrounded by stacks of split wood, a constantly tended wood fired evaporator making billowy clouds of steam and the giant, soft, fluffy snow flakes falling on a snow covered ground. She said occasionally the old men running the process would take time to harden some fresh syrup in the snow or make some other type of maple candy for any on lookers or neighbors who might come to visit on their snow machines.

This sounded completely magical to a young man from southwestern Ohio. I had grown up surrounded by corn and bean fields and had no idea such things even occurred in Ohio. I also had no reason to suspect that in less than ten years, that same enchanting, lovely woman and I would be moving our young family to northeast Ohio where I would become the director of the Geauga Park District. The Geauga Park District is in the heart of Ohio’s maple production region. It had a substantial sugar bush operation including a beautiful sugar house and hosted tours for thousands of visitors through the facility. Life is full of amazing twists. 

As the grey days of mid-winter drag on and the chill seems to settle deeper and deeper I often hear people complain about winter fatigue. I fight these same demons, but a late winter sugar snow fall triggers a wave of wonderful, emotional recollections for me of younger years, and the beginning of the long relationship with the love of my life.              

This image is by Shari Blaukopf a remarkable Candian artist.