A Sugar Party up Kay-beck Way

A WEE bit of winter finally came our way, but we went to Canada to see it. We are home from our annual weekend in Quebec, having assisted the family Belanger in the making of the syrup of the maples, and where we again greeted numerous longtime friends in the merriment of the cabin of the sugars. We could go to "sugaring parties" right here in Maine, but the folks in Quebec have their own way with this springtime ritual, and we like to hear the sap drip-dripping with a tonic accent. A wee bit o' winter, I say, because here in Maine we've had none. Our fields have been brown and bare, and every threatening snowstorm has changed to rain. Fact is, we drove over the Height of Land in a brisk coastal rainstorm with 50-mile winds - the best this season could do for a roarin' March lion on the way out of his sheep's clothing.

But.

Well, all during the alleged unpleasantness of a Maine winter we stay-at-homes get picture postcards from our part-time neighbors in their sumptuous Floridian condominia telling us to take it easy as we shovel "all that white stuff," even while the boy we retain to plow our driveway of snow has gone to carpentering to make ends meet. He's been building a gazebo for the golf club, too proud to go on relief. I

finished planting my garden seeds in flats, fitted the glass on my cold frame, and said, "Why-n't-we ride h'up h'on top Canadaw for mak de see-row?" ( I speak Madawaska French some goo-ood.) Our route is the same taken in 1775 by Benedict Arnold for his heroic, ambitious, and forlorn expedition against the citadel of Quebec City, but with a following wind and newer roads, we cross the border in a couple of hours. The rain ceased, the wind subsided, and the last 63 kilometers were toward a sunset that looke d much like coming snow.

It was beautiful. As we wended to the sugar house on the Saturday, great, lingering, fluffy, leisurely flakes turned Canada into a fairyland that even Walt Disney wouldn't attempt to imitate. M. Belanger, who is a wag, always taps a utility pole and hangs a sap pail on the spile. This is right by the door of his cabane, just to amuse his friends, and during the day it snowed enough so he had to go out three times and dump the bucket. (Otherwise, his sap flows to the evaporator in plastic tubing.)

We can go to sugar-house parties here in Maine, as I say, but they lack the finesse of the Kaybecker outing. We had the great sugar-maple-cured ham, the eggs in syrup, the sugar-house baked beans, the baked potatoes, the long pain-chez-nous of the habitants - a menu carefully made sweet and sticky throughout by the persistence of the business at hand. The air is heavy with maple. And the snow continued to make all things lovely until we had seven inches. But that snowstorm was Canadian, and on our way ho me we ran out of the beauty soon after the boundary, and we were again home in bare and field-brown Maine. Sticky, but home.

All our Canadian friends in this interlude are French-speaking or bilingual. None seems to be a separatist, whereas the newspaper stories stateside tell us Kaybeckers are hot for a separate nation. One man, of college faculty standing, told me he doubts if the referendum on Quebec's withdrawal will be held. As he spoke, I could see an American television program casting him as "political analyst" - lumping him with "local resident," "eyewitness," and "boxholder local." We could use folks like him to quie t our presidential campaign.

I did pick up a nugget we statesiders might ponder as we read about Canada's big problem of should-or-should-not. While we were there, somebody discovered that television commercials on the French-language network in Quebec are tuned to the "demagogues" of separatism. The Montreal Gazette carried the story. In these commercials, all the bad guys speak English. If you like and use the product, you speak French. As neutrals, we hope Canada holds her own. We wouldn't want all our sugar-time friends to becom e foreigners.

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