See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 23 -- Halloween Antics.
Maple sugar making was another setting particularly favorable to pursuing a romance, though it was not without its hard labor at times. When the weather was not too cool, a sugar making party would be formed at which the young people, on a moonlight night, would participate in making sugar and having a moonlight and firelight social in the maple groves, in which the countryside abounded.
To obtain maple sap, the trees were "tapped" -- holes were bored into them with auger bits -- into which alder pegs with the soft inside punched out were inserted. These wooden "spouts" then conducted the sap a sufficient distance from the trees to enable it to drop into the wooden troughs undeneath. These troughs were about three feet long, usually made of walnut, hollowed out by the woodsman's ax, and would hold about two gallons. The sap was carried in buckets from these troughs to large barrels kept at the boiling place, or fire.
Boiling fires were ordinarily constructed by rolling two logs about ten feet long near each other and building a fire between with smaller wood. At each end of the logs, a large forked branch was driven or placed in the ground, each well braced, and a long, strong pole mounted in these forks extending lengthwise along the middle of the fire and sufficiently elevated so as not to burn. On this pole from one to three large iron kettles were hung in which the maple sap was boiled down to the consistency of molasses, or sugar, as desired. One kettle was called the boiling-down kettle, the reduced sap from the others being poured into it, and no fresh sap allowed in it. This facilitated the production of the molasses, or sugar, and made it finer.
Little work was done by those attending these sugar-making parties, and that chiefly by hired help. The gatherings sometimes lasted until one or two o'clock in the early morning. The young folks ordinarily occupied the time sitting apart in couples on logs and rude seats in the moonlight in the vicinity of the fire, mostly talking of love and romance. The young folks from the town were always anxious and glad to attend these sugar-makings, which were really romantic and enjoyable -- as they occurred in the genial springtime, after the long, monotonous winter. Sometimes, under the sweet strains of the violin, a Virginia reel or old-fashioned French dance would be indulged in by the lights of the moon, fire, and torch.
As I sat apart with Minerva watching one of these dances at the sugar camp on the Chandler farm one night, our discussion turned to philosophical matters. Provoked by the moaning of the winds among the trees, the whisperings of the leaves, and the voices of wild animals and birds that must have filled our savage ancestors with fear, we wondered whether that fear had bred superstition in them about imagined unseen powers, or spirits, and ultimately, to placate the wrath of this spirit or spirits, whether the fear in the hearts led them to worship, and the belief in God. The misery of mortals, the inequalities of life, the squalor, starvation, and death from want existing right alongside luxury and lavish wealth, the lack of brotherly love in all the human and animal kingdom, led us to reflect on the sufferings of many million slaves right here in our own free America.
The existence of the Negro slave, toiling under the lash in the most debased and servile manner -- human souls bought and sold -- gave each of us misgivings as to the existence of an all-powerful and just God. "I wonder that if there is a God," I said, "why he does not correct all this. Why do we believe in an afterlife? Aside from a belief in God, why and where did we get that idea? Why believe in and long for immortality?"
"And what is your answer," Minerva said, looking earnestly into my eyes, with a deep interest and anxious meaning.
"In order to reconcile these sufferings and inequalities with justice, I have looked to the doctrine of the early sages -- that all matter -- animal, vegetable, and mineral, the worlds, everything -- are component parts of God, all struggling up to greater refinement and higher perfection, which we call perfect happiness and immortality. That God suffers as we suffer, and that for the time being he cannot prevent it, nor can we." I went on to explain that I found this explanation difficult to accept, and that I could not reconcile it with the idea of an afterlife. I added that such a view of life presupposes the existence of a God of wisdom, and consequently of justice, but found it impossible to reconcile justice with human suffering. Minerva could only remind me of the Christian idea that God's wisdom and providence were beyond human understanding, and that some day all would come to see the righteousness of God's will.
"Do you believe in the immortality of the soul -- of a life beyond -- where we shall meet again?" said Minerva. "Generations of men appear and vanish like the grass," I said, "and the countless multitude that throngs the world today will tomorrow disappear as the footsteps on the shore. The instinct of immortality, therefore, finds a deep response in every thoughtful soul, although perhaps mistaken. My feelings for you, however, are such that I am certain that we shall meet again, no matter what."
With that, Minerva took my arm, and, with the remainder of the company, departed from the sugar camp. This sugar-making party was a pleasant occasion, and after the company had moved on to the Chandler mansion -- where they partook of the apples, cider, and other refreshments -- everyone strolled homeward by way of the tavern. In passing over the rise of the hill east of the tavern, Minerva and I exchanged our usual farewell waves.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 25 -- The Corn Husking Bee.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
ENTRY NUMBER: EBK30011841