Nothing could be sweeter -- or more memorable -- than tapping into the bounty of the many sugar maples spotting the expansive 75-acre grounds of New Canaan Country School.
For students, it's a joy-filled experience this time of year to participate in a process that's been happening on this very ridge for perhaps 4,000 years or more -- maple syruping.
"This is a rite of spring at Country School," said Chris Lawler, woodshop teacher and commander of the sugar house, which for more than 50 years has been turning maple sap into sugar-sweet syrup.
"The Native Americans did it 4,000 years ago," he said. "The colonists learned to do it from them."
February through March, the sap runs strong in the 50 or so trees across the grounds. Buckets are set up at each and the trunks are tapped for sap. Each tree nets anywhere from 10 to 20 gallons, but it's a mere 40-to-1 ratio when it comes to reduction, and so it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
"We average about 10 gallons of syrup a year," Lawler said.
But there's much more to the work than just bettering pancakes. School officials see activities such as this as priceless hands-on learning opportunities in which students garner knowledge in all subject areas.
"There are so many lessons embedded in that one experience," said Tim Bazemore, head of school, citing the science, math and other disciplines taught through such an activity.
"We believe in experiential learning -- learning by doing," he said. By exposing the students to hands-on experiences, he said, "the learning is deeper ... I think it helps them embed the concept more deeply."
"It's a much richer, deeper education," he said. "They'll remember that the rest of their lives, and they'll understand how trees work."
Students certainly spoke to both their knowledge and enthusiasm.
"It's incredible how much sap the buckets can collect in one night," said Griffin Dewey, 10. "It's really cool. And it's fun to tap the trees and do all that. It doesn't hurt them. They make so much sap this time of year."
"In here we put most of the sap," said Katie, indicating the large, antiquated boiler in the Sugar House.
"It just boils for like three or four days," said Carolina.
"These guys are seasoned syrup makers," said Lawler, who has run the operation for 19 years now.
Even more exciting than the process, however, may be the resultant maple tea -- a warm liquid confection made from the sap still in process before it actually becomes syrup. Lawler and the students were generous with sharing.
"It's really, really good," Griffin said.
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer