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Maple sugaring season has begun in the Northeast

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Maple sugaring season is just beginning in the Northeast. That's when maple sap is gathered to make maple sugar. But for commercial operations, the work goes on all winter, where teams tap the trees to collect the sap. North Country Public Radio's Amy Feiereisel went out with a tapping crew in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

AMY FEIEREISEL, BYLINE: It's 9 a.m., about 20 degrees, and I'm following six men through the woods on snowshoes. Today they're working in an 80-acre sugar bush in Keene in the Adirondacks. This crew will tap 10,000 maple trees in the next few weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Last night, I was telling myself, remember this this time.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Don't forget next year what this feels like.

FEIEREISEL: So we snowshoed about a quarter mile, and now we're sort of in the woods, just filled with tubing - clear blue tubing wrapping, crisscrossing across the trees. And this is where they're going to be working today.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPPING)

MICHAEL GRAY: This particular sugar bush had been sugared for a very long time.

FEIEREISEL: That's Michael Gray, the operations manager of South Meadow Farm Maple Sugarworks. He knows this sugar bush really well.

GRAY: In certain places, there's still old buckets hanging on the trees, you know, kind of grown in to the trees and rusted out.

FEIEREISEL: These days, tapping looks a lot different. The crew separates, each person following a different plastic tubing line from tree to tree and drilling fresh holes for this year's sap. This is Will Madison's third year tapping.

WILL MADISON: And I'm kind of doing a visual inspection of the tree. Like, is it in good health? Is it alive? Is the top half of it broken off and fallen? Is the tree still there? This one looks good, so we'll tap it.

FEIEREISEL: He's got a hammer in hand, a drill at his hip and a plastic spout ready to go.

MADISON: And I'm going to sort of listen to the sound of the tree. Like, is it sounding solid or hollow? And that sounds pretty solid there. Scrape off a little bit of the excess bark, drill my hole, line up my spout and hammer it in. And that's that. Piece of cake. Then you do that a couple thousand more times.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAPPING)

FEIEREISEL: It's really peaceful out here. It started cloudy, but it's starting to clear off, and sort of this gentle sunlight is making patterns on the snow. Really, it's this landscape of white snow and then the gray tree trunks, green, and then this crew of six men weaving their way in and out, between the trees and the tubing, stopping every 50 feet or so to tap another tree.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRILL)

FEIEREISEL: For NPR News, I'm Amy Feiereisel in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAVID'S "AYA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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