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EVENTS AT THE FARM SEEM TO MIRROR THE FITS AND STARTS OF A MOST UNPREDICTABLE MONTH

We sat in the dining room early last Saturday morning having coffee and watching a curtain of snow descend on our fields across the road. We hadn't had much measurable snow through the depths of winter, but now here it was falling heavily. It reminded me of kids at school who get behind and try to make up all their work in the last week.

Then just as dramatically, the white stuff stopped, and there was a flash of sunshine. Irregular and unpredictable, it is just that kind of month, and taking a clue from March, my journal this week has also been just bits and pieces.

Sweet ice

In the woods, the sap buckets have frozen solid, and the maples have gone back into hibernation. I started the fire in our homemade evaporator setup and plopped a 20-gallon ice cube into the pan. It sat there in the shape of the bottom of the barrel it froze in, but in a half hour it was liquid again and bubbling on its way to syrup.

We're hoping that this cold snap will jar the maples back into a good flow, but we never know. We have a good stand of willing trees, but there isn't a reliable snow pack in the woods in March, and without it the nights often stay too warm. This turns off the sap flow. Consequently it's uncertain if we will get a syrup surplus or hardly anything. Maybe that makes the product all the sweeter.

March madness

The TV these days is full of college kids performing unlikely feats with a basketball. The small screen is crammed with soaring jams and the pin-point trajectories of long perimeter shots.

We had a refreshing dose of a March madness of a similar sort last Friday night as Kathleen and I ventured to Honeoye Falls to hear our daughter perform with the Fredonia State College Chamber Singers. Like their collegiate counterparts on the hardwood, these vocalists performed with energy and precision, displaying talent and superb coaching.

The music ranged from doo-wop to Renaissance. After a rousing gospel number We left the auditorium with the same buoyant sensation you get from watching your team win convincingly.

If I ran the NCAA tournament, I'd work the college choirs into the program somehow. Wouldn't that Final Four be something?

Zapped!

Our youngest was excited to receive a techno-toy in a box of tools we ordered recently. It is a tiny laser the size of a pen, capable of shooting a blob of red light an amazing distance. I was up the hill at the barn doing evening chores yesterday when I realized I was a target for a 13-year-old marksman at the kitchen table. I died dramatically.

We got to thinking of the practical uses for the laser around the farm. We could tape it to a level to use as a transit, or mount it on the fender of the tractor to maintain a straight line when planting. But right now its No. 1 use around here is father-hunting.

On a shoestring

I have a chronic problem with my work boots -- the shoestrings last about three weeks before they pop. I got disgusted Saturday with the latest waste of 89 cents and resolved to do something about it. The inspiration came when I pulled a scrap of plastic baling twine out of the mire of the pasture, where it had lay buried for a couple of seasons. Eureka!

Kathleen plaited a couple of strands together, and we rubbed a stub of candle over it. I laced the boot with our creation and tied it tightly. It worked and probably will outlast the boot. Best of all, the price was right. I tromped around all day feeling thrifty and clever as if I were back in 1973, in the heyday of Mother Earth News, low-tech and no-tech and homemade everything.

Those were the days! Once I made a candle out of chicken fat, which stunk up the house, but it proved what could be done if we got stuck in another Stone Age.

Whiteout

The snow from Saturday melted, leaving the fields across Alps Road mud-brown and dry-grass beige. Then suddenly the white returned, not in the form of snow this time, but in the bright-winged form of a thousand gulls. The birds socialized and hunted worms in the thawing ground. We often forget that we live only a few thousand steps from a Great Lake. In the gulls' perspective, our fields must be part of the shore.

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