Giving trees

LYNDEBOROUGH – Maple syrup making is a big industry in New Hampshire and its participants use all of the up-to-date, state-of-the-art equipment to make the most and the best of a given season. But not Leo Trudeau, of Lyndeborough.

“I tap the tree, collect the sap, boil the syrup and keep it all super clean,” he said recently outside of his rustic decades old, three-
sided sap house. “I drill a hole in a tree and either the sap comes out or it doesn’t.”

He has changed to using sap lines, he said, because collecting in buckets is too time consuming. But he does not use suction pumps.

“I was raised to be appreciative of the tree and the sap you get, a gift from nature,” he explained. “There is only so much sap available and we shouldn’t take more than flows out the hole. It’s just a respect for nature. You shouldn’t hook on a machine and pump it out if it doesn’t run.”

This year, he said, because of the unusual weather, “we’re not getting much. I won’t make as much as in the past, but that’s OK. I’ll be grateful.”

He added, “Climate change is absolutely real. Is it natural? Probably. Is some manmade? Possibly. But the maple trees need prolonged cold. The crowns (of the older trees) are dying. And acid rain affects the maples.”

Trudeau, 58, has lived most of his life in Lyndeborough, in his cabin in North Lyndeborough since 1998, which he shares with his girlfriend, Tracey.

“In 1956, I was 15 months old, a ward of the state,” he said. “Mum picked me up and never put me down. I call her an angel among the living. I grew up in paradise and learned all the right stuff.”

“Mum and Pop” were Calvin and Margaret Hutchinson, who have both died. An old picture of his Pop is on the sap house wall.

“I grew up on a farm,” he said, “and we were always grateful for what we had. It gets my goat, as Mum used to say, when people don’t respect nature. I’ve been singing this song for a long time and a lot of people get annoyed with me.”

He doesn’t expect to change the ways his neighbors make their syrup and won’t try, but, “I’d like the people who buy the syrup to think about where it comes from.”

Trudeau began helping Hutchinson with the sapping when “I was about 5,” he said, “and I’ve been doing it ever since.” The way Hutchinson did it.

Trudeau recalled an old neighbor, Guy Holt. “He used to let me ride on the scoot pulled by oxen when he collected the sap. He let me take the covers off the buckets for him, and then let me ride.”

He pointed to buckets on a nearby tree and the bucket Tracey was using to collect the sap. “Those were Pop’s buckets.”

Although his evaporator is from 1990, he bought it in 1995, Trudeau is not totally old-fashioned. He uses a thermometer to be sure the sap is ready (as well as visually through the “sheeting” effect). He tests the sap each day to be sure of the sugar content. And he uses the fancy maple leaf bottles people like to give as gifts. But he uses “a tiny dab of unsalted butter” as a defoamer, he said, instead of a commercial product. “Why use chemicals when this makes the syrup taste better?”

“But I’m thinking of putting the syrup in canning jars,” he said, because the “cost of bottles is going sky high.”

Trudeau uses an antique blue enamel dipper for testing the syrup, as much for the character as anything. “We found it in an antique store.”

He generally has about 200 taps, he said, but this year about 175 because of the late season. Most of the trees are in his neighborhood. “I don’t go very far,” he said.

The rest of the year Trudeau is a carpenter. “A barn wright,” he said. His business card reads “construction and renovation of the New England Home and Barn.”

He has his own sawmill and saws much of what he needs. “I love getting trees from a land, sawing and drying it, and using it again on that same land.”

He recalled his beginning in that business in 1974. He had been working at Hitchiner Manufacturing Company, he said, when Harry Holt’s barn in South Lyndeborough burned. Wally (Holt) said, why don’t you quit your job and help me rebuild it? So I did, and I’ve been banging nails ever since.”

Trudeau lives at 65 Warner Road and can be reached at 620-7428.