Whether the Weather be Cold or Hot: Maple Sugaring at Coggeshall
By Casey Duckett
Director of Operations and Interpretation
This is the third year I have maple sugared at Coggeshall Farm Museum. The first year was a modest affair, near the house under a tarp, sitting in a puddle, trying to keep the fire going over two days. The second year I sugared at the farm we decided to host the event for 14 days over three weeks. We set up camp with one convertible wedge tent in our maple grove, and had more to do at camp. This year we decided to go big in terms of our camp, and set up my big wall tent, the convertible wedge, and a fly to block wind. 14 out of the 16 days of this event have gone by, and as usual, nature has proven that it is bigger than us. It's a common theme as a living history professional, and an important one.
The first week of mapling at Coggeshall Farm Museum this year was great. In six days, I spoke with over 1,000 people directly, was filmed for two television segments, and an online segment. The weather was mild, and the sap was flowing pretty well at first, slowing a bit due to too warm conditions by the first weekend. That's when we started to hope for colder air. We wanted to make this event last.
Then, we were reminded "be careful what you wish for." Freezing temperatures and high winds became the norm. Branches froze and cracked, occasionally falling near the camp. For a few days we persevered by our fires, out in the cold. Many people were still coming for the event, although they typically went back inside our farmhouse quickly to get out of the cold, and enjoy some johnnycakes. Soon we were out of sap to boil. The winds were too fierce. The cold was too sharp. There was no point in pretending: it was time to close camp for a while.
So what do we learn from this? What is so important that we are willing to work in conditions that are often smokey, cold, wet, and miserable? The answer is complex. What we gain for ourselves as historic interpreters is a glimpse of what life is like in harsh conditions. We are reminded that people lived without modern comforts like central heating and nearby grocery stores for far longer than they have lived with them. We are then able to pass our experiences on and remind others that as a whole, our ancestors were every bit as smart, capable, and enterprising as we are today, and maybe even more so. We try and remind people that life is not ruled by our modern technologies, and in fact, people tend to be more innovative and imaginative when they step back and unplug.