Photo: Carrying sap buckets in the maple sugarbush.

Sugaring season at North Country School arrives with the first warm, sunny days of spring. It is a time we look forward to each year, checking the forecast and our tapped trees daily waiting for the first pings of flowing maple sap hitting metal buckets. On days when the temperatures are above freezing while the nights remain cold, we begin to collect sap in the sugarbush. 

This past week we began our sugaring season in earnest, with the first community-wide collections out in the woods, as well as the first sap boils in the Sugarhouse. There are many ways to lend a hand in the maple sugaring process, whether it be by carrying sap buckets, loading the evaporator with firewood, and bottling syrup during these long spring days, or by calling back to the the forest management work that was done by students and teachers in the fall to help keep our sugarbush healthy. It is a time of year that has made a lasting impression on many over the course of our long history, and we are always excited to welcome a new generation of students into this beloved part of the North Country School experience.  


Top: 7th-grade history class uses quill pens by candlelight. Middle 1: Samantha uses a quill pen. Middle 2: Quill pen writing. Middle 3: Matt shares his free-writing. Middle 4: 5th- and 6th-grade play a word game. Bottom: Anika and Joel play a word game. 

In Selden’s history class, students have been learning about daily life in colonial days, including the many steps involved in tasks like doing laundry, making soap, building a fire, hauling water, and cleaning clothes. This week our 7th-graders learned some of the steps involved in writing letters by cutting their own quill pens from feathers. To complete the experience, the class wrote their letters by candlelight. Meanwhile, our 5th- and 6th-grade English students worked on writing of a different sort, using headline-building cards to work together on a fun sentence construction game, and sharing some of their free writing with their peers. 

Top: 9th-grade biology does an adaptation lab. Middle: Arden works on her adaptation lab. Bottom: 4th-grade science animal adaptation drawing.

This week our oldest and youngest student scientists continued learning about animal adaptation. In Colin’s biology class our 9th graders completed a lab activity where they used different size sticks and pieces of paper to build simple “birds.” The group then tested how the size and shape of these birds affected how well the creature could fly, recording their findings. Our 4th-grade scientists have also been exploring the concept of animal adaptation throughout the winter and spring. This past week we were delighted to see some of the class’s silly and creative animal drawings on display in the ramp. The drawings imagine each student with a series of adaptations that would allow them to live in the wild during a cold Adirondack winter. Throughout the Spring Term, the class has been expanding their learning about how animals change and adapt to their surroundings with visits to the animals in our barn. 


Top: Bryan makes a mop fly in the Art of Fly Fishing class. Middle: Sean ties a fly. Bottom: Fly fishing flies.

At North Country School, our core value of “art every day” isn’t confined to our theater or studio spaces. One of the newest additions to our art elective rotation that allows students to bring art out into the world with them is the Art of Fly Fishing. The class, taught by Dean of Students Bryan Johansmeyer, began this past week with an introduction to tying flies. The class began by learning how to make a simple mop fly, and will progress to tying more complicated flies using campus materials including feathers and wool. As the spring temperatures warm, the class will be able to test out their flies and see how well they attract the native fish in our surrounding lakes and streams.

Top: Eliza paints sets for Mary Poppins. Middle 1: Zachary paints sets for Mary Poppins. Middle 2: A set piece for Mary Poppins. Middle 3: A photo walk to the barn. Bottom: Alejandro reflects for a moment on a photo walk.

The many moving parts of our spring theater production are coming together, and this week our stagecraft students worked hard on some of the largest pieces that will make up the set for Mary Poppins. As always with our North Country School theater sets, there are some jokes and references hidden among the sets, and this year we spied painted books “written” by a few of last year’s graduating 9th graders. 

Spring doesn’t just bring with it larger traditions like our May theater production; it also brings smaller traditions, including more of our arts classes and activities taking place in outdoor locations around campus. This week our talented student-photographers spent time taking photos in our barn and along our thawing trails, enjoying the scenery as they composed their beautiful, interesting, and sometimes cute images. 


Top: Jack at Round Lake. Middle 1: Landon uses a bow drill. Middle 2: Relaxing on the giant Adirondack chair. Middle 3: James plays in a puddle. Middle 4: A weekend hike on Rooster Comb Mountain. Bottom: Matt hangs out in the woods.

Though there is still snow and below-freezing temperatures in the forecast, this week we saw some of the first real days of spring, with blue skies, a bit of green grass, and melting ice. The knowledge that bursts of cold mountain weather can last into May just makes us appreciate these warm and green days even more, and this past weekend we saw trips both and on- and off-campus taking full advantage of the spring conditions. Some students spent time down by Round Lake, breaking up chunks of melting ice and practicing firebuilding, while others relaxed on the Upper Field, lounging in our giant Adirondack chair and splashing in equally giant puddles. Some of the students in Algonquin and Cascade House ventured out to nearby Rooster Comb Mountain, playing in the woods and enjoying the view from the wide-open summit. 


Top: A sap boil at the Sugarhouse. Middle 1: Melody and Hania load the fire box. Middle 2: Tess tests the maple syrup sugar content. Middle 3: Grading the finished maple syrup. Bottom: Melody bottles the first maple syrup.

This past week our farmers worked hard to boil and bottle the first North Country School maple syrup of 2021 in the Sugarhouse. Sweet-smelling steam filled the air as farm interns Hania and Melody loaded the firebox with wood cut from our campus forest, fueling the fire that was used to evaporate the maple sap into the syrup that will fill our dining room shelves. Tess continuously tested the sugar content of the boiling sap, making sure to draw-off and collect the syrup once the sugar content reached the perfect 67% that makes it shelf-stable but not yet crystalized. After Hania graded the syrup—determining this year’s product to be Amber Rich—Melody completed the process by reheating and bottling the delicious finished syrup.

Top: 5th- and 6th-grade students collect sap in the sugarbush. Middle 1: River and Matt carry buckets of maple sap. Middle 2: Duncan collects sap. Middle 3: Elyssa explains maple sugaring to the 4th-grade Edible Schoolyard class. Middle 4: The 4th-grade Edible Schoolyard class asks sugaring questions in the Sugarhouse. Bottom: Cascade House helps at a boil.

We had several days of sap running this past week up in the sugarbush, allowing different groups of students the opportunity to help with collection and boiling. On Tuesday, 5th- and 6th-grade Edible Schoolyard (ESY) class met beside the dozer to go over the steps of sap collection with their teacher Elie and the farmers. As usual, many hands made light work, and we were so proud to see our students working hard together to complete the task. Earlier in the week our 4th-graders also made a visit to the sugarbush and Sugarhouse, talking about the process with their teachers and the farmers, as well as exploring the spaces and equipment used throughout the sugaring season. And while the first boil of the year was run by the farmers to make sure everything was running smoothly, our students were able to visit the Sugarhouse again during this week’s homenight to participate in the process themselves. It was amazing to see our young community members experiencing firsthand this special, and so often fleeting, time on the North Country School farm, participating in both the hard work and the joy that goes into bringing familiar foods to our plates. 

Check back next week to see what we’re up to on our mountain campus.