Friday, August 26, 2011

Of Hurricanes, Oxen, Maple Syrup and Reverse Osmosis

While I do not wish to appear alarmist, I can’t help but note the quote in the Guardian about the Hurricane, in whose path I currently sit.
Meanwhile, officials warned of widespread power black-outs – potentially lasting for days or even weeks in rural areas – because of high winds from the hurricane.
I do not expect that the consequences here will be that severe, but we're not exactly New York City in terms of relative importance to the grid. We are visiting family at a point where Irene will likely have reduced significantly in power, to the point where it will only be a tropical storm. But I also know that storms can bring unexpected results in their path and so it is likely that I won’t be posting for a couple of days, since we are close enough to the coast that we are already discussing possible evacuation.

The problems with post writing in this short term future are not just in finding time to write, but also the need for access to a network that will feed the post onward. That is the more likely weak link in the chain, and so I will hopefully take up writing again in the aftermath of the storm.

Oxen in yoke at Acton

Incidentally it was a beautiful day today. Yesterday we went up to the Agricultural Fair at Acton. We watched oxen drag sleds through angled courses (which I had never seen before) It is known as “oxen on skoot” and comes from the use of oxen either to recover logs from the forest, or to haul the “skoot” (a form of sled) through the maple trees to collect the maple syrup.

Oxen on skoot at Acton

Oxen and skoot on course (between cones) at Acton

Speaking of which, I did see one thing of more general interest.

There was a maple syrup stand, with a lady showing a video of the process. Until now I had always had the image of the large boiling kettles or tables used to reduce the water content of the sap and raise the sugar content. But, as she pointed out to me, with the cost of oil for the boilers, this was becoming uneconomic.

So now they feed the sap through a reverse osmosis stage first. This removes excess water, so that if 55 gallons of sap are required to make a gallon of syrup, after osmosis the volume to be boiled has been reduced to 11 gallons. They have been doing this now for seven seasons and have been able to stay in business because of the change. (Understanding that other farms may use wood to provide the heat for the boilers).

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