Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maple Sugar Time: Part One

When I was a child, my sister and I both loved Virginia Sorenson's children's novel Miracles on Maple Hill, which won the Newbery Medal in 1957. In the book, ten-year-old Marly's father is a newly released prisoner of war suffering from what we today would call post-traumatic stress disorder. Desperate for a change, the family temporarily relocates from Pittsburgh to rural Pennsylvania, during sugaring-off season. For Marly, the rising sap is a "miracle," and no more miraculous is the change it brings to her father: "Daddy is better at Maple Hill." My children's literature professor, Anne Scott MacLeod, called Miracles on Maple Hill "a very sappy book" (pun intended). But this was one of the only times I knew her to be wrong. It wasn't a sappy book, it was a wonderful book.

Until I reread the book this past year as part of my research for a paper I was writing on "redemption through the rural" in mid-twentieth-century children's literature, I had forgotten the farm was in Pennsylvania, just assuming that it was in New England: didn't all maple syrup come from Vermont? But now that I am living in rural Indiana, I have discovered that not only does maple syrup come from Vermont, and Pennsylvania, it comes from Indiana. Parke County, just to the west of where I live in Putnam County, is not only the covered bridge capital of the United States, but has several maple sugar camps as well. And this weekend is the Parke County Maple Syrup festival.

I was bound and determined to go the festival of course, in search of an experience I've been dreaming of for at least forty-five years now. Would it turn out to be the miracle I hoped it it would be?


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