by Sharon M. Kennedy
March is usually the perfect month for tapping maple trees in the EUP. When my uncle, Steve Cottelit, retired from construction work, he had time for some favorite hobbies. When the ice was too thin to fish on, he hung up his spears, made sure the embers in his homemade pot belly stove had burned out, and hauled his shack off Lake Superior. He cleaned everything and sealed up the shack so no rodents would make it their home during the off-season. Then he set to work tapping the sugar maples on his 120 acres. I lived in the Detroit area at the time so I was never around to watch his operation but from what Mom said, it was a good one.
As is evident from the photo, he bought new metal pails to catch the sap. He also cut and blocked trees to keep a fire going in a barrel when he had gathered enough sap to start the boiling process. Knowing how particular he was, he probably had placed sterilized pint jars on a nearby table. I doubt he gathered enough sap to fill a dozen pints, but I’ll never know for sure. I’m pretty certain he worked alone. As a fussy bachelor, only his sister, my Mom, would tolerate his impatience with anyone who didn’t measure up to his work standards. I have no idea who took the photo.
In later years, he found a giant iron cauldron in which he boiled the sap. He made a tripod for it and hung it over an open fire. How he managed to hook it up is beyond me because the cauldron was heavy. My uncle had a tendency to do things the hard way. He might have wrestled with it for a long time before rigging up a contraption that made lifting it manageable. Mom often said he never played golf because he didn’t see the fun in using a round ball. A square one would have been much more challenging. Bachelors are like that. They have an opinion on everything and prefer their own methods, at least Uncle Steve did. He was quite a guy, and I still miss him and the pint of maple syrup he saved for me when I visited every summer.