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How to Beat Cabin-Fever the East Coast Way

How to Beat Cabin-Fever the East Coast Way

Maple season is one of the first welcome harbingers of spring in South Knowlesville, New Brunswick, home of the Little Cloud Kites headquarters.

“These beautiful sunny days of spring really mark a transition between winter and the arrival of warmer weather,” says Tegan Wong-Daugherty, director of the Knowlesville Art & Nature School, an elementary school in South Knowlesville, with a Waldorf-inspired pedagogy, and partner to head kite-maker, Leland Wong-Daugherty.

Tegan and Leland moved to Knowlesville twenty years ago, and have spent the time since then working to establish the KAN school, as well as a community land trust which has grown to welcome seven other families who live and work in South Knowlesville, whose business include Little Cloud Kites, Radicle Roots Herbs, and Tree of Life Holistic Healing.

A big focus for many of the families who live on the South Knowlesville land trust is growing food, and living off of the land as much as is possible in a short growing season.

“Through the winter we’re on hiatus in terms of producing anything from the land,” explains Tegan.  “Kite-making is great through the winter months—as well as drawing, writing, all those quiet inward pursuits.”  

There is usually still snow on the ground in Knowlesville in March and even into April and May, but in mid-to-late March, when the temperatures start to climb, one of the most long-awaited rituals that ring in the possibility of warmth and new life, is the running of the Maple sap from New Brunswick’s abundant and beautiful Sugar Maple trees.

“We definitely get restless and cabin-feverish by the end of winter,” laughs Tegan.  “So Maple sugaring time comes just at the right moment, when we’re ready to move from the inward pursuits of winter, outward into the natural world again.”

Tegan and Leland and family have approximately sixteen taps, which allows them to collect about forty litres of Maple sap, which will be boiled down to produce approximately five litres of Maple syrup.

As with most aspects of their lives lived closed to the earth and according to the rhythm of the seasons, Tegan has integrated the tapping of Maple trees and the boiling of sap into the activities she leads with the children at the KAN School, including setting up a small wood-fired evaporator outdoors on the school grounds.

The fire is stoked continuously through the day, and then allowed to die down a bit at night, and then re-started again in the morning.  

“This is part of connecting our students at the school to the seasons,” says Tegan.  “By the end of this week we’ll be able to bottle up the syrup, and each student will take home about a cup.  I usually save a litre for the school to use in our cooking classes.”

The sap’s readiness for bottling is determined by it’s consistency—it boils swiftly like water in the early stages, and then becomes visibly thicker and more viscous, a sign that the thin slightly-sweet liquid has been transformed into the much-loved smoky syrup.

Testing is par for the course, during every stage of production (especially with the little ones).

“We drink the sap all the time as it’s boiling down.  We really enjoy maple tea, as it’s often called,” Tegan says.

“Last Thursday over a week ago, the kids were all outside at school, so I suggested that we go make hot cocoa and sweeten it only with our Maple sap.  We have a Kelly Kettle that boils water perfectly, so I brought over Mexican vanilla, and cinnamon and cayenne, and all the kids made their own gourmet hot cocoa.”

“It’s a school tradition and a family tradition,” Tegan says.  “All six of us went out and collected sap today. The trees were dripping the whole time.”

Springtime is also the dawning of kite-flying season—another family tradition for the Wong-Daughertys.

“After checking our Maple trees, Leland asked me to go for a walk with him, to his favourite kite-flying place,” Tegan recounts. “Just the way the wind blows in that field, beyond the land trust and towards the sugar camps, creates two patches of grass that are clear of any snow.  Two little knolls. It’s a great spot.”

Tegan and Leland and their youngest child, Arthur, took one of Leland’s premier Little Cloud Kites, ‘Quetzal’ with them on their adventure.

“There was hardly any wind,” laughs Tegan. “Although the kite did go up, but not for very long. Arthur was the one who kept saying ‘One more time’, ‘One more time’.  It was the perfect day.”