• Burr Morse: Birds and bees ... and squirrels
    March 05,2012

    Sometimes I worry that ideas for new sugaring stories won’t come to me anymore but then, that’s kind of stupid. As long as there’s sugarin’ in Vermont there’ll be stories about it. Every sugar season has its own personality. Last year it was about snow, snow, snow and this year all we can do is hope for a little of the white stuff. As my late father-in-law used to say, “Y’might as well spit in one hand and hope in th’other for what good it does.”

    Every step of sugarin’s prep work last year was hard, snowshoe sloggin’, and for this 63-year-old, that’s real work. The only saving grace last season, in fact, was that there was no squirrel damage on our plastic tubing. It was almost like those rascals got together and agreed to take it easy on maple sugarmakers. “They have hard enough work ahead without interference from us,” they might have said.

    If only we humans could take a page from their book on diplomacy.

    We’ve been in the woods for a week now sans snowshoes. There’s only five inches of the stuff, just the right amount to make those cussed appliances ineffective but, alas, enough to create a real drag for this now 64-year-old.

    With every step, we sink in those five inches; it’s kind of like the human version of a car being driven with its emergency brake on. And the squirrels, well, let’s just say that their truce dissolved with the snowmelt last April. We’re seeing (and fixing) more darned squirrel damage on our miles of tubing than we’ve seen in 20 years.

    In years past, I’ve declared war on them: shotguns, sugarbush cat patrols, prayers for Tamiasciurus hudsonicus pestilence. But just like man and most of his wars, that never really worked. Sanctions seem a little silly at this point. Hell, what are we going to do, take away their plastic tubing? In an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” sort of way, I’ve just decided to live with the rascals for now.

    There’s a few squirrels that live right here close to our house. They’re quite tame. They’ll hang around in the hemlocks by our walkway and laugh at us from three feet away, but I figure if they’re here taunting us, at least they’re not out chewing tubing.

    The other day I had a small group of school kids here on a field trip.

    I was drilling a tap hole in one of the big maples by our house for them to watch and all of a sudden two of those squirrels “barreled” out of a nearby tree and commenced chasing each other round and round the yard. “Look at those rascals play,” I said to the group of first-graders. About the time I realized my faux pas, a wide-eyed little boy came up to me and drew me down close with a curling finger. ”Mr. Morse, uhh, they’re not ‘playing’” he said, face reddening.

    “I know,” I whispered back, “but let’s let that be our little secret.”

    The rest of the group seemed content enough with my first assessment and we resumed our field trip tour while the two bushy-tailed bandits continued their “playing”!

    The maple industry is making great strides these days in improving sap tubing systems. Just like farming in general, it’s no longer as feasible to sugar the way we did years ago with sap buckets and sap gatherers.

    In order to fill the demand for our world-class product, we’re reaching further into sugarbushes with tubing systems, adding vacuum, and striving for profits. As long as there’s sugarin’ though, there’s got to be nature, you know, things like snow and lack of snow and animals that live where we’re working.

    Squirrels. There’s got to be advances made soon in how to deal with the damage they cause on our tubing systems and I have faith that answers will come with time and another generation.

    Hmmm, I’m thinking of a young first-grader who’s already got a pretty good grasp on things.

    Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.

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