Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sugar snow













In the morning, the house was warm from the stove, but when Laura looked out of the window, she saw that the ground was covered with soft, thick snow. All along the branches of the trees, the snow was piled like feathers, and it lay in mounds along the top of the rail fence, and stood up in great, white balls on top of the gate-posts.

Pa came in, shaking the soft snow from his shoulders and stamping it from his boots. 

"It's a sugar snow," he said. 

Laura put her tongue quickly to a little bit of the white snow that lay in a fold of his sleeve. It was nothing but wet on her tongue, like any snow. She was glad that nobody had seen her taste it.

                                                                 - Little House in the Big Woods - Chapter 7, The Sugar Snow

"The Sugar Snow" is my favorite chapter in one of my favorite books. It's late spring in Wisconsin and all the snow has been melting as the weather warms up. Laura learns later in the chapter that this spring snowfall is called the "sugar snow" because it signifies the best time to make maple sugar, from the sap collected from tapped maple trees as winter draws to a close. Grandpa, Pa's father, has been gathering the sap in buckets and pouring it into a huge cauldron where it boils over a bonfire, with lots of skimming, until it becomes syrup. Pa goes to visit him and brings home maple sugar for his family. In the next chapter, which happens to be my second-favorite chapter in the book, they all go to Grandpa's house for a maple-sugaring dance. The family dances all night while they make, and feast on, maple sugar, and the children make candy by pouring hot syrup onto pans of snow, something I have fantasized about doing since I was nine years old.

We had this kind of snow on Sunday night, into Monday morning. We woke up to a few inches of thick, wet snow on the grass and trees, clinging to patio furniture and cars and fences, the streets and pavements wet but completely clear of snow. The temperature was just above freezing, which meant the snow fell off the branches quickly, hitting the ground with soft plopping sounds that we could hear all around us from inside the house. We aren't in late spring yet, of course, but this was just like the sugar snow as I have always pictured it.

I love a really cold, fine snow that covers everything and keeps you indoors for a day or two. But a snow like this - a wet, heavy one - draws me outside to look around. I think it has a lot to do with my imagining of a sugar snow in the Big Woods. I think of a deep forest draped with this kind of snow, all the trees coated in feathery white, the animals scurrying beneath to avoid the falling clumps. I remember snow like this in my New York childhood, usually occurring in March. We had lots of maple trees there and quite a bit of syrup-making. My favorite field trip in my elementary school years was to a state park which had an environmental education program; they gave a demonstration and we tasted real maple syrup on a little piece of Eggo waffle. We went a few times; I thought a lot about the sugar snow chapter while I was there, even if there was no snow to be found.

My children are growing up in a place where snow is relatively rare, and can shut down the city for a day with only a few inches. Snowmen and sledding happen roughly every other winter. One thing is for sure, though: the impulse to taste this kind of snow must be inborn - not to mention timeless and universal - because both of my children do it every single time. On Monday, we stayed in the house most of the day because it was so damp and chilly outside. We went out for the GB's ballet class in the late afternoon. By then, the snow on the ground was almost all melted and only a little remained on bushes. We walked past a big juniper and both of them grabbed some snow to eat. The GB, who has not read this book yet, knows I think of it as sugar snow. She said it was "like cotton candy with no flavor," a reaction not unlike Laura's ideas about fluffy clouds of snow.

23 comments:

  1. I have not read this book but I bought it for a present for one of Heidi's friends who is an avid reader. This is good snow isn't it? we had snow falling all day last Saturday but none of it stuck to the damp wet trees even though it went on all day. PS. Today Jen, I made ponte pants! so comfortable, what a great recommendation.Jo x

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  2. Back in the early 70's my husband read the Laura Ingalls books to our daughter every night, from book one through to the last. You maybe also interested in her book, "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" by Laura Ingalls Wilder & Pamela Smith Hill.
    Enjoy the sugar snow.

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  3. I remember reading that part of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. We get sugar snows most every year up here in Washington. We actually had our first school snow day last Thursday, and it wasn't even because of snow, it was because of the half inch of ice that fell the night before. There is still almost 4 feet of snow in my front yard! I must confess I'm ready for spring, probably much the way the pioneers longed for spring. I do realize we have it much easier though.
    Blessings, Betsy

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  4. I don't know this book but it sounds like a lovely one. We don't get much snow here, maybe every second winter. We've only had a dusting once this winter and unfortunately, there was not enough to even make a snow angel. I used to eat snow when I was little and I am still tempted now. Enjoy the snow while it lasts. x

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  5. What a wonderful post Jennifer, you've captured a child's view of snow very beautifully. We rarely have snow here either, not for the past six years or so. If and when we do it's a HUGE deal. And pretty much everything grinds to a halt. I don't think there will be any this year either. It would be lovely for the children to have one or two lots of snow before they are grown. I have happy memories of sledding down a big hill when I was little. CJ xx

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  6. Crumbs, you were just crocheting outside in your flip flops and now your garden is all covered in sugar snow! I hope you put your socks back on! LOL

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  7. I love the book and the TV series, it is one that we all read to each other when the girls were small. Lots of lovely memories.

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  8. Oh, so pretty! Snow is a rarity down here, especially so close to the sea as we are, so it's a source of much excitement. I do love a snow day. :-)

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  9. Love the Big Woods stories, they're just so comforting with the simple ways of pioneer life. I loved to help with boiling the sap down in spring time. Lots of good memories there. We had a major snowstorm on Sunday and we've been enjoying the snow at every opportunity. I love having snow all winter long.

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  10. I've always enjoyed that part of the story too. It was a supplemental reader for my third grade class and most of my students had never seen snow, so we had to make snow cones to go with the story.

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  11. Isn't Garth Williams an amazing illustrator? Sugar snow is wonderful!

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  12. I remember that part of the book. I loved her books! The photos are beautiful!

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  13. I love that book too, and we made sugar on snow last time we had a huge blizzard, it was so much fun!

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  14. I've never heard of sugar snow, but it does sound so romantic, and looks so pretty. You have taken some gorgeous photos. Can't wait to go over to Canada at Christmas to see some good snow scenes.

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  15. Aw, a sugar snow, how wonderful. So pretty :)

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  16. I loved this post, Jennifer! This is one of my favourite parts from Little House in the Big Woods, too. I read every one of the Little House books out loud to every one of my children. And I'm anxiously waiting for my grandchildren to be old enough to read them to. :-)

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  17. I loved the Little House books too, Jennifer, and loved this post! Your sugar snow pictures are a delight to see.
    Helen xox

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  18. So pretty! No snow here at all this year. So far...

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  19. The Little House books were my favorites when I was a little girl. I fondly remember about the sugar snow. When my boys were in Scouts, they got to go to a maple syrup tapping and then taste the syrup. I'm not a big maple syrup fan, but I keep a bottle of the real stuff (organic pure maple syrup) in the fridge, as I sometimes use it in baked goods instead of granulated sugar.

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  20. Snow like this is so magical, isn't it? I hadn't heard of the The Little House books before – they sound lovely. We don't get much snow here and it's rare to have enough for sledging or building snowmen. There was a light coating a week ago but all trace had disappeared 24 hours later. How fab to have made your own maple syrup. Have a good weekend, Jennifer. Sam x

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  21. I love this post, it's not very long ago that I read this book and I enjoyed it very much. I've only read the first three books in the series so I've got the rest left to go, I should really get on with them. I think Laura brings everything to life with her descriptive writing and you can really imagine what things were like.

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  22. It does look like it would taste sweet. I love it when it snows, everything looks so bright and clean with the light bouncing off the white snow. I love the drawings in your post, are they from the book?

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  23. I just loved the 'Little House on the Prairie' books when i was a child, and I still do actually. I remember that chapter, but also the one where they celebrated christmas, and each received a little sugar cake. Wonderful bokks that stay in the mind for ever x

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