NYFS logo    tagline
 Pinto Guira making guiramaking a mandalaplaying mandolin

Voices Spring Summer 2014Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society.

Dedicated to publishing the content of folklore in the words and images
of its creators and practitioners!

Support the New York Folklore Society


Voices logo

Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore features articles, stories, interviews, reminiscences, essays, folk poetry and music, photographs and artwork from people in all parts of New York State. Voices is the Society’s membership magazine. The magazine also publishes peer-reviewed, research-based articles, written in an accessible style, on topics related to traditional art and life, including ethnic culture. Join NYFS today to receive this new membership magazine!

Voices features articles, stories, interviews, reminiscences, essays, folk poetry and music, photographs, and artwork drawn from people in all parts of New York State, folklorists and non-folklorists alike. The magazine also publishes peer-reviewed, research-based articles, written in an accessible style, on topics related to traditional art and life, including ethnic culture. Informative columns on subjects such as legal issues, photography, sound and video recording, archiving, ethics, and the nature of traditional art and life appear on a regular basis.
Look inside ⇓
VOICES, Vol. 40, Spring-Summer 2014

Voices Spring Summer 2014

What always strikes me about Voices is its clarity and openness, both in design and content. It’s inviting, lively, and readable and has plenty of variety. It presents artists and communities with respect and sensitivity, yet one learns too about what folklorists do and who they are. Voices gives a picture of New York State and its people that cannot be found elsewhere.
Anna Lomax Wood, Director, Association for Cultural Equity

LISTEN to New York Folklore Society’s executive director, Ellen McHale interviewed by Steve Black for his radio show, “Periodical Radio,” about Voices.
Download MP3

⇐LOOK INSIDE back issues of Voices

From the Spring–Summer 2014 issue of Voices:

“Sap’s Running!” is a welcomed greeting in the early spring of upstate New York.

It usually happens around March, when the sun is a bit higher in the sky and is shining just that much longer each day.

If there’s snowpack (and there usually is), then a bit of melt has begun. On weekend walks around the rural hills of my home, you can see and hear the movement of the melt, darkening the snow, trickling into the depressions of the land, and moving on to the streams.

The watery sap of the sugar maple also begins to move out of the roots and up into the branches and leaves of the trees. It’s during these first few weeks of spring, with sunny days and cold, below-freezing nights that the gathering and boiling can begin.

All maple syrup producers rely on this slight, but noticeable turn away from the dark and cold days of winter. Large and small operators are found throughout the northern forests of the Northeast, wherever the sugar maple thrives. The rivalry between New York and Vermont producers is keen, though as a border dweller, I really don’t notice a taste difference. Biggest overall production is actually found further north in Canada, with New York and Vermont coming in second and third, respectively.

Native Americans have long collected sap and boiled it for syrup, sharing the tradition with the French of Canada and the English of New England. Someone back in time was pretty smart, or incredibly desperate, at the end of winter to boil 32–40 gallons of water for every gallon of maple syrup. The Abenaki say that this sweet treat once dripped from the trees, available any time of the year with no work required. But people got lazy and unappreciative of this free gift, so the Creator diluted the syrup to a watery sap, making the people work for this sweet staple.

Indeed. These days its takes time and energy to produce this gift of nature. Wood fires are often used to boil down the sap, and it takes a lot of wood. A cord of firewood will be burned for every 25 gallons of pure maple syrup. That’s a stack of wood 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet high.

Mountains of firewood and the sugar shacks—with their telltale open cupola in the peak of the roof to let out the steam— are evidence of this work. Looking closely at the landscape, you find more evidence of sugaring. Covered galvanized buckets and horse-drawn sleds have mostly replaced bark containers or wooden buckets with carrying yokes. Very often, plastic tubing, shaded blue, crisscrosses from tree to tree down to a collection point—sometimes the sugar shack, sometimes barrels (of metal or blue plastic), or reused stainless steel milk house tanks. Maple trees along the road, decorated with repurposed plastic gallon milk jugs, might point to a small backyard setup.

Nonetheless, whatever the setup and equipment, sugaring is in the blood. Many local farm families, like the Campbells of Mapleland Farms, have been sugaring for at least four generations to add to the income of their dairy and potato businesses. Others are new to the tradition—“backyard producers”—like my younger brother who boils enough for a year’s supply of pure maple syrup, stored in quart canning jars for his family’s pancakes, to give away as special gifts, and to sweeten his morning coffee.

Eight gallons of syrup can be condensed into a pound of maple sugar. Once used as a homemade substitute for cane sugar, maple sugar and maple syrup have been mainstays of North Country cooking, found in local recipes for maple-glazed ham, maple Johnnycake, maple-sweetened baked beans, candied popcorn, dumplings in maple syrup, maple frosting, maple sugar pie, just to name a few.

One of my fondest memories from my first years as a folklorist in the Adirondacks was my visit to Athol’s Jack Wax Party, an annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. This event continues to attract a large following, starting off with a supper of homemade savory dishes, not unlike the church suppers that I experienced as a child. However, as good as the food is, everyone is there for dessert: pure maple syrup cooked on the industrial stove and ladled onto snow, apportioned into individual paper bowls. The quickly cooled, cooked syrup forms into a taffy-like dessert, called Jack Wax or Sugar on Snow. With a twirl of a fork you eat it as is, possibly with a sour pickle chaser to cut the sweet and allow you to eat more. The year I was there was a rare year when the organizers had to travel north to Indian Lake to bring back snow for the event.

Closer to home, I like to visit the Upper Hudson New York Maple Producers’ booth at the Washington County Fair in August, to indulge in another maple treat: cotton candy spun from pure maple sugar. Not to be missed. Trust me. The same folk celebrate, in season, with an annual Maple Weekend, inviting the public to an open house and self-guided tour in March, to visit and learn about this local product from a number of their neighbors who make it each year. Many visitors use the map to tour the countryside, visit the sugar shacks, see the trees being tapped, taste samples, maybe indulge in a pancake breakfast, and yes, buy a gallon or two of New York maple syrup.

These days, my kids are all in college or beyond. Yet they cannot understand anyone’s interest in “maple-like” substitute “pancake syrups,” featuring less than two percent real maple syrup—a mostly corn syrup product with added color and flavorings. For them, it has to be the real deal, or why bother?

My thought this spring is to send them some of Tim Dwyer’s maple syrup. Tim, a neighbor around the corner, boils maybe 200 gallons of syrup each year. It’s also a good excuse to bring a dish to his annual Shushan Sity Sap Shack potluck, featuring craft beer made from his syrup, and providing company during the long hours of boiling. I’ll also pick up some maple sugar. My daughter loves this treat and thinks it the perfect gift to bring to her German host family during a musical exchange this coming summer.

Todd DeGarmo
Voices Acquisitions Editor
Founding Director of the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library

Maple Sugar Moon

Long ago maple syrup
dripped, thick from the trees.
All year round, you just had
to break a twig and lie down
beneath the tree with open mouth.

But the people got lazy
and when Our Creator, Git-chee Man-ni-tou,
sent his helper, Man-a-bo-zho,
to visit, he found
their village deserted
and all the people asleep
under the maple trees.

So he poured much water
into all the maples
so that now the people
would have to wake up,
make fires and boil down
the sap to make syrup.
They would have to work hard,
for that maple sap would flow
just this one time of the year,
the time we now call
Maple Sugar Moon.

From Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons, by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London; illustrated by Thomas Locker. Philomel Books, New York, 1992.

The taxpayers are hollering, and the state’s contribution to this wonderful little magazine has been drastically cut. Those of us who read it all the way through have to all chip in.
—Pete Seeger, musician and activist, Beacon, New York

VISIT our online gallery bookstore to purchase back issues.


Meet Todd DeGarmo, Voices Acquisitions Editor
Todd DeGarmo

Todd DeGarmo is the acquisitions editor for Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore, leading an editorial team which includes Ellen McHale as executive editor, Patricia Mason as copy editor, and Laurie Longfield as Voices’ manager. Todd took over this editorship from Dr. Eileen Condon who served as acquisitions editor until 2007.

Todd is the founding director of the Center for Folklife, History and Cultural Programs at the Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY. Todd is a former board member and past president of the New York Folklore Society. He brings a wealth of knowledge and prior experience to the position of acquisitions editor, including a knowledge of Japanese culture, Adirondack studies, tourism, and architectural studies.

Send Your Story to Voices!
Did you know that Voices publishes creative writing, including creative fiction (such as short stories), creative nonfiction (such as memoirs and life/work stories), and poetry? We also publish artistic and ethnographic photography and artwork, in addition to research-based articles on New York State folk arts and artists. If you are one of New York’s many traditional artists or working in a traditional occupation—including fishing, boat building, traditional healing, instrument making, firefighting, and nursing, to name a few—please consider sharing your life or work story with the readers of Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore. Check out our new column heading First Person, which spotlights folk artists and folk arts workers, giving creative people space in each issue to share their life stories in their own words. First Person allows people to share the reasons they have spent a lifetime supporting or recreating New York’s diverse traditions, passing them down through generations—whether it’s gardening, carving, roots music, village dancing, egg decorating, weaving, quilting, fiddling, traditional singing, basketry, ethnic foodways, traditional calligraphy, or home altar building. Email the acquisitions editor of Voices, at nyfs@nyfolklore.org.

Check our submission guidelines for authors.

Send your letter to the editor here

Folklorists are writers. We write every day: monographs and scholarly articles, field notes, festival and event brochures, exhibit texts, grant applications, final reports, press releases, proposals. In fact, I would say that time spent writing is more than fifty percent of any folklorist’s annual cycle of work. The essentials of folklore—the ethnographic material—are fundamental to a great story. As any fieldworker can attest, entering into the personal experience of another individual is expansive and illuminating. The everyday becomes novel when viewed from the viewpoint of the uninitiated. The job of the folklorist is to translate that experience to those who may not get the opportunity to go through it themselves and to help the reader to find meaning in the experience.
Ellen McHale, PhD, Executive Director, NYFS

What is Folklife?
The everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass on to the next generation:

The traditional songs we sing, listen and dance to

Fairy tales, stories, ghost tales and personal histories

Riddles, proverbs, figures of speech, jokes and special ways of speaking

Our childhood games and rhymes

The way we celebrate life
  – from birthing our babies to honoring our dead

The entire range of our personal and collective beliefs
  – religious, medical, magical, and social

Our handed-down recipes and everyday mealtime traditions

The way we decorate our world
  – from patchwork patterns on our quilts to plastic flamingoes in our yards, to tattoos on our bodies

The crafts we create by hand
  – crocheted afghans, wooden spoons, cane bottoms on chairs

Patterns and traditions of work
  – from factory to office cubicle

The many creative ways we express ourselves as members of our family, our community, our geographical region, our ethnic group, our religious congregation, or our occupational group

Folklife is part of everyone’s life. It is as constant as a ballad, as changeable as fashion trends. It is as intimate as a lullaby, and as public as a parade.

In the end ... we are all folk.
American Folklife Center
Library of Congress, Washington, DC

NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org