Like everyone else, I have been surrounded throughout life with adages. From proverbs in the Bible to clichés in every day chit-chat. Adages abound in “old saws” and “quips” like:
“A stitch in time saves nine”
“A penny saved is a penny earned”
“A watched pot never boils”
Pages, and even books, could be filled with them – sayings that seem to be plausibly true, or at the very least, have a kernel of truth embodied in them. But wait a minute!
One spring, I kept Fred Newton company at his cabin retreat on the Cedar River near West Idlewild Campground. He was “maple syruping.” Over an open wood fire, he was boiling down 80 gallons of clear, drizzly sap from trees he had tapped the week before. It was a slow process. Minutes and hours passed while Fred and I chatted, had some good laughs, and tended the fire.
The tinder-dry, split-oak logs snapped, crackled, and bathed us with a wonderful smoke scent that only a wood fire can give. It was a great time of companionship as we sat around the fire, moving up wind whenever there was a wind direction change.
Directly over the fire, a bushel-basket-size cast iron pot hung on huge “big as baseball” trunnions. The thick, heavy pot glowed fiery red on the outside while inside the sap heated up to the boiling point – boiling away hour after hour. “A watch pot never boils” they say – but it does – and Fred and I were witnesses to it on that delightful early spring day.
White wispy vapors rose above the roiling sap, and foam gathered in clumps on the surface of the liquid. From time to time, Fred deftly skimmed off the unwanted foam and plopped it on the roaring fire where it sizzled, releasing a pleasant sweet smell. What more could anyone want on such a beautiful spring day.
Time passed. The boiling sap bubbled and swirled around in the pot. Slowly but surely the sap was getting thicker and sweeter as the water in it vaporized. “A watch pot never boils.” But it did on that glorious day – leaving Fred with a masterpiece of thick, golden brown, genuine maple syrup – a syrup to savor over hot, buttered, fluffy pancakes.