02 November 2015 Published in Monthly Almanacs

October Almanac

While the tenth month of the year, October retains its name of Latin origin as the eighth month when March began the New Year. Daylight hours decrease during the month, with occasional hints of winter cold to come.  

October is a magical month wedged between the frenzy of the beginning of the school year and the holiday season of Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year’s. Football season is in full swing at area high schools and universities. Ice hockey season begins, with the first home game of the Utica Comets on October 21. The performing arts season has begun, with films, concerts and theatrical productions at the Stanley Theater, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Kirkland Arts Center and area high schools and colleges.   

For those with a garden, it is time for fall clean up and planting bulbs for garlic and next year’s spring flowers. It is the time give the car and snowblower a tune-up, caulk windows and doors, and get the snow shovel handy in preparation for the coming winter.

October weekends are a perfect time for a day trip with the entire family to many nearby rural areas for apple and pumpkin festivals and Halloween activities. For Those seeking peace and solitude may prefer a woodland hike, camping, or fishing trip. Salmon fishing in Pulaski is popular, and hunters make preparation for deer season.  

While many parks and regional tourist attractions close after Labor Day, a few remain open through Columbus Day weekend. This is usually the last chance for a day trip with relatively mild weather and roads free of ice and snow that sometimes make such excursions problematical during the winter.

In the northeastern woodlands and and rural areas of the Mohawk Valley, “leaf peeping” trips are popular. Predominantly green landscapes of summer change to pastel colors of orange, red and yellow as deciduous trees prepare for winter. Against a cobalt blue sky on a sunny October day, these scenic views are truly enchanting. 

This annual seasonal transition of mid autumn lasts for several weeks before the leaves completely fall, leaving the gray and brown landscapes of November. Colors generally peak in late September to early October in the southern Adirondacks, mid-October in the Mohawk Valley, and late October in the Chenango, Schoharie and Sesquehanna Valleys of Otsego, Madison, and Chenango Counties.

Excursions might include one of several regional farms or rural orchards for harvest festivals. Many such events focus on apples, pumpkins, and other fall harvest crops, and some include hay rides, corn mazes and Halloween activities.

Halloween, this year on a Saturday, is one of the most popular cultural holidays of the year. Costume parties, trick or treating for children, haunted house exhibits at various locations, and hay rides or corn mazes in rural areas are all popular. This year, Halloween coincides with the shifting back to Eastern Standard Time which begins at 2 A.M. on November 1. With that change, afternoons are noticeably shorter with sunset at 4:52 P.M. and dreary November begins.     

Holidays and Proclamation Days in October

October 3      Oneida County History Day (first Saturday of October)  

October 5      Child Health Day

October 6      German-American Day 

October 9      Leif Erikson Day

October 11    General Pulaski Memorial Day       

October 12    Columbus Day (2nd Monday)

October 15    White Cane Safety Day; Poetry Day

October 16    National Boss’s Day

October 17    Sweetest Day (3rd Saturday)

October 18    Alaska Day

October 27    Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthday 

October 30    Nevada Day

October 31    Halloween


Weekly Observances in October

~1st Week~

Mental Illness Awareness Week

~2nd Week~

International Letter Writing Week

~3rd Week~

National Business Women's Week

~4th Week~

National Magic Week

Discovering Regional and Ethnic History and Heritage

October is a unique month in the Utica area with many activities focusing on various ethnic groups that have played an important role in our history. The first Saturday of the month has been Oneida County History Day for several years, often with special events at the Oneida County Historical Society.

October 6 is German American Day. Mid September to mid October is Hispanic Heritage Month. October is Polish-American Heritage Month, with General Casimir Pulaski Day on October 11. In recent years, special ceremonies at the Pulaski Monument on the Memorial Parkway in Utica have been held in late September. 

Columbus Day is the second Monday of the month, this year on its original date of October 12. This was an important holiday celebrating Italian-American heritage long before it became a national holiday. There continue to be observances at the Columbus Monument on the Memorial Parkway in Utica. This is the last long holiday weekend of the year before the cold of winter sets in.

A Few Regional Festivals and Events for October

October 3      Pumpkin Patch Mud Run, Esperance (Schoharie County)


October 4      Traditional Sauerbraten Dinner, Utica Maennerchor, Marcy

October Weekends Corn Maze & Harvest Festivals at Critz Farms, Cazenovia


October 10-11          Cider Fest, Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, Fly Creek


October 23-24          Norwich Pumpkin Festival, Norwich



 In the Night Skies

October this year has visible planets shifting to the early morning pre-dawn sky, with Saturn the only planet visible in the evening, low in the southwestern sky.

On October 1, there is a conjunction in a vertical line, from top to bottom, of Venus, Leo’s bright star Regulus, Mars, and Jupiter. The waning crescent Moon passes close to these planets, first Venus on the 8th with Regulus to the Moon’s left, Mars on the 9th, and Jupiter on the 10th, and finally Mercury on the 11th, very low on the eastern horizon just before dawn. Venus and Jupiter appear in a close conjunction on the 25th.

The Draconid Meteor Shower, originating in the northwest from constellation Draco has remnants of Comet Giocobini-Zinner. This is best seen in the late evening on October 9 with up to six meteors per hour.

The Orionid Meteor Shower of October 21-22.  Up to fifteen meteors per hour may appear in the southern pre-dawn sky, remnants of Halley’s Comet. Looking to the south, the winter constellation Orion is also visible at this time.

October 1      Sunrise 6:59 am                    Sunset 6:41 pm 

October 31    Sunrise 6:35 pm                   Sunset  5:54 pm

Put the clocks back an hour at 2 A.M. on November 1, and times of rising / setting of the Sun, Moon, and Planets move to an hour earlier.


Rising and Setting Times of Visible Planets on October 31

Moon                          9:50 P.M.                               11:50 A.M.

Mercury                      6:36 A.M.

Venus                         3:34 A.M.                             

Mars                           3:39 A.M.

Jupiter                                    3:10 A.M.     

Saturn                                                                         7:18 P.M.                                                                              

Moon Phases for October

Last Quarter                           October 4      Sets 1:59 P.M.

New Moon                            October 12    Rises 6:42 A.M.   Sets 6:45 P.M.

First Quarter                           October 20    Rises 1:56 P.M.

Full Hunter’s Moon                October 27    Rises 6:28 P.M.  Sets 7:25 A.M.

October Astrological Signs  Libra  9/23 - 10/22     Scorpio 10/23-11/22

Roger Chambers’ book, A Sense of Place: An Almanac of Festivals in the Mohawk Valley is being published this fall by Friesen Press. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


21 March 2015 Published in Monthly Almanacs

Mohawk Valley Almanac for April 2015

April brings welcoming warmth and increasing hours of evening daylight. The sub-zero temperatures are past and the snow is mostly gone, despite an occasional April Fool’s joke that usually lasts only two or three days. From the Latin aprilis meaning to open up, the early greenery of crocuses and tufts of grasses are harbingers of the transition of the landscape from drab browns and grays to the various shades of green that dominate the scene for the next several months.

The day time high temperature averages 57°F with a low of 34°F, though afternoons in the 60s to low 70s are not unusual. The extreme temperature range is from 8°F to 90°F. Precipitation averages 3.58 inches, most of it as rain showers, though occasionally two to five inches of snow may fall. The day light hours increase, with sunset about 8:00 P.M. by the end of the month.

To the close observer, April is a month of surprises. Various woodland and garden flowers sprout up before the leaves on the trees begin their green growth. Crocuses and snow drops are among the first garden flowers to bloom in late March, but will likely not appear until April this year due to the heavy snows and severe cold of this past winter. Fragrant hyacinths, and yellow or white daffodils soon follow, usually blooming by mid month. Tulips follow, blooming in late April and into May.

If one is lucky enough for a mud season walk in the woods, fiddle heads may be found, especially in the North Country. This edible fern tastes like asparagus, with the shape of the handle of violin, thus its name. Saxifrage, violets, and other pink, white, and lavender wildflowers bloom on the forest floor at this time of year. And while it might be muddy, the temperatures are often pleasant, and the insects are few.

As the soil thaws and dries out from the winter, it is time to be thinking of the garden. April is ideal for planting most root crops such as carrots, beets, onions, and maybe potatoes. Greens are also good to go for early planting, including wide varieties of spinach, lettuce, chards, Pak Choi, and perhaps broccoli or Brussels sprouts. If you have flowers in your garden, the early sunny and warm days of April will be full of color, with yellow and white daffodils, and the fragrance and color of white, lavender, or red hyacinths. While working in the garden you might observe the first bees of the season attracted to some of these spring flowers.

April Holidays and Observances

April 1 April Fools' Day

April 2 Pascua Florida Day – Florida

April 3 Good Friday

April 4 First Day of Passover

April 5 Easter Sunday

April 7 National D.A.R.E. Day

April 12 Halifax Day - North Carolina

April 13 Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday

April 14 Pan American Day

April 16 Jose De Diego’s Birthday - Puerto Rico

April 20 Patriots’ Day - Maine, Massachusetts - 3rd Monday

April 21 San Jacinto Day (Texas)

April 22 Earth Day April 22 Administrative Professionals Day - Formerly Secretary’s Day (Wednesday of last week of April)

April 24 National Arbor Day (Last Friday, but variable by State)

April 27 Confederate Memorial Day - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi - (4th Monday)

April is Cancer Control Month

~1st Week~ Cherry Blossom Festival

~2nd Week~ National Guitar Week

~3rd Week~ Astronomy Week

~4th Week~ National Parks Week April Almanac

Clean-ups Celebrate Spring

With the warmer weather, many look beyond their garden or yard into the greater community. Earth Day, Arbor Day, and May Day all celebrate the new growth of spring, often with spring clean-ups at parks and commercial districts and roadways throughout the region. Over the years these have included clean-ups at the Utica Marsh, Proctor Park, and many other places. Most of these activities are well publicized in local newspapers and on television.

Earth Day in particular leads to greater interest in educational seminars and public meetings on green issues of regional agriculture, Rust to Green efforts on more recycling of building materials and other green issues. Many schools and colleges and other organizations sponser such events surrounding Earth Day on April. Spring Break Most schools take a week off in April, which may or may not coincide with Easter week. Museums, libraries, and other organizations often sponsor special acctivities for children during this week.

With better spring weather, bicycles become much more common on the streets, and golfers get their first shot at the many golf courses in the area. Those training for the Boilermaker and other road races hit the roads running.

Letter Writing and Stamp Collecting

Related to a recent column on letter writing is the hobby of stamp collecting. Long before current Black History Month, it was on April 7, 1940 that Booker T. Washington became the first African American to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp. There have been many U.S. stamps with African-Americans since then, including Louis Armstrong, Frederick Douglas, and Harriet Tubman. Stamp collecting is still a hobby that entertains many people with depictions of history, animals, transportation, space exploration, and many other topics on these small pieces of paper that still decorate at least some home-delivered mail.

In the Night Skies April’s full moon is the Full Pink Moon, named after the wild ground phlox, an early pink flower. Other names include the Fish Moon, named after spawning shad in coastal areas, Sprouting Grass Moon, and Egg Moon.

There is a total lunar eclipse on April 4th, the beginning early morning just before the Moon sets at 6:34 A.M. Mars is close to the sun and generally hidden from view. Mercury is visible this month as an early evening star, seen in the west beginning April 23 and passing just to the left of the Seven Sisters star cluster on April 30. Venus is visible near this star cluster as well, earlier in the month from the 10th to 13th. Jupiter is high in the southern sky at nightfall, while Saturn is not seen until about 11:00 P.M. throughout the month.

Sun Rises  6:17 A.M.                 Sets  7:43 P.M.                                                   Moon                           4:24 A.M.                         4:11 P.M.                                             Mercury                       6:35 A.M.                          8:16 P.M                                                   Venus                          8:01 A.M.                        11:14 P.M.                                                Mars                            7:00 A.M.                          9:03 P.M.                                                  Jupiter                         1:14 P.M.                           3:44 A.M.                                            Saturn                        10:46 P.M.                          8:27 A.M.

Full Moon           April 4                                                                                                       Last Quarter       April 11                                                                                                     New Moon          April 18                                                                                                    First Quarter      April 25

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23 February 2015 Published in Monthly Almanacs

Unpredictable and Chaotic March

For weather, March is the most unpredictable month of the year, with the widest range of temperature. Some years, the temperature never falls below 0°F.  That would be welcome this year after a record cold February. Most years, March is the last chance to ski, snowhoe, or snowmobile. Some ski resorts have discount prices as the season comes to a close with warmer weather and melting snow.

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17 February 2015 Published in Birds

Crows cawing woke me up about thirty minutes after sunrise on this bitterly cold Friday the 13th. At eight o’clock, the temperature was -7°F, with a wind chill of about -20°F. It was the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an annual event that collects data on bird observations made by thousands of participants across the country and around the world.  

This has been an old-fashioned cold and snowy winter.  Utica has had fifteen days of sub-zero temperatures by mid-February. This is similar to last year, which was the coldest winter inabout twenty years.

31 August 2014 Published in Monthly Almanacs

September Holidays in 2014

September 1                          Labor Day

September 7                          Grandparents Day

September 9                          Admission Day - California

September 10                        Carl Garner Federal Lands Cleanup Day

September 11                        Patriot Day

September 12                        Defenders’ Day – Maryland

September 17                        Constitution / Citizenship Day

September 15 - October 15     Hispanic Heritage Month

September 21                        World Peace Day

September 22                        Autumnal Equinox

September 25                        Rosh Hashanah

September 26                        American Indian Day (4th Friday)


Selected Regional Festivals in September 2014

September 12-13                Utica Arts & Music Festival

September 12-13                Madison County Hop Fest, Oneida

September 13                     Mohawk Valley Garlic and Herb Festival, Little Falls

September 20                     9th Annual Cream Cheese Festival, Lowville

September 27-28                102nd Annual Pilgrimage and Feast of Sts. Cosmas & Damian, Utica

September 27-28                Barn Festival of the Arts, Remsen


When March began the New Year in Roman times, September gets its name from the Latin Septem for seven as it was the seventh month of the Roman Calendar when the New Year began in March. The ninth month of the year in today's Gregorian Calendar, September is the first month of fall that officially begins with the Autumnal Equinox of September 22.  

Throughout the month, daylight hours decrease nearly by nearly 90 minutes and sunset by the end of the month is before 7 P.M., a significant change from the long evenings of early summer. With an average of 4.40 inches of rain, September is the month with the largest long-term average of precipitation. Some Septembers are much rainier than others. Occasionally the tail end of a hurricane affects our weather, usually in the form of a tropical depression decreasing in intensity as it moves north. Occasionally these fall storms drop over two inches of rain in our area. Usually one of our most pleasant months, September has generally warm days (average of 71° F) and cool evenings (average 47° F).

The reds, yellows and oranges of changing leaves start to appear, usually peaking in intensity late September in the Adirondacks and the North Country, but later in mid to late October in the Mohawk Valley and southern hills. Frost may also occur in areas north and south of the Mohawk River, but in the Valley the first frost is usually now in early to mid October.

For local gardeners, there may still be late beans, corn, squash, and tomatoes to pick. It is time to clean out detritus from the garden as the last summer vegetables are picked. Late summer flowers usually continue to bloom until the first hard frost. It is also time to prepare beds for planting of garlic and bulb flowers such as tulips and daffodils for next year’s spring flowers. For those without a garden, local produce of vegetables, along with apples, pears, and early pumpkins are readily available at the many local farmers markets.

Summer Ends and School Begins

Labor Day marks the last hurrah of summer, and many area parks and tourist attractions close after the holiday weekend, though some remain open on weekends through Columbus Day in October. After Labor Day, the school year begins for elementary and secondary students. Most arts and other organizations begin their programming and meeting schedules for the fall and winter season.

Fall Festivals

There are many outdoor fall festivals in the region in September. These often focus on local agriculture, especially apples, garlic, and in Madison County, hops and beer. These are held on weekends throughout the month and provide a last chance to enjoy the outdoors and usually nice weather before the colder days of late fall and winter arrive.

The 40th annual Falling Leaves Road Race of five kilometers is held the last Sunday of the month, this year September 28. This began before the Boilermaker, and is usually the second largest area road race.

While the last weekend of the month is often cool and rainy, it does not dampen the spirits (too much) of the thousands that attend the annual Remsen Festival of the Arts (FOTA) that is held annually. This is one of the largest regional fall festivals of arts and crafts, music and food, held in this small village in the Adirondack foothills north of Utica.

On the same weekend, thousands of Catholic pilgrims come to Utica for the Festa of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. This annual event attracts people from across New York State, as well as Ontario and Quebec. Sponsored by St. Anthony and St. Agnes Church, this includes a unique outdoor processional in the East Utica neighborhood streets surrounding the church with floats and marching bands. There is much Italian food and music, and several religious services during the two day event. This year is the 102nd annual celebration, making it perhaps the oldest continuously celebrated festival in the area other than for county fairs.

Early fall is a great time of year in the Mohawk Valley. Take the opportunity to attend one or several of these regional outdoor events during the month of September before the cold of later fall and winter arrive.

In the Night Skies

September is usually the month of the Full Harvest Moon, this year occurring rather early on September 8. Between the 15th and 26th, best seen in dark rural areas, the Milky Way seems to slplit the sky from north to south shortly after sunset. With binoculars, if skies are clear, one might see the Green Planet Uranus, close to the Moon in Pisces in the eastern sky on the 10th about an hour after moonrise of 8:13 P.M. Jupiter and the Moon have a conjunction about 5 A.M. in the eastern sky on the 20th. There is also a conjunction of the Moon and Saturn in the western sky about 8 P.M. on September 27. Mars is seen close to the Moon in the constellation Ophiuchus near nightfall in the western sky on the 29th. The autumnal equinox occurs at 10:29 P.M. on September 22, the official beginning of Autumn. The rising and setting times of visible planets are listed below for that date.

Phases of the Moon

First Quarter           September 2

Full Moon                September 8

Last Quarter           September 15

New Moon              September 24

Autumnal Equinox  September 22

Sunrise 6:49 A.M.   Sunset 6:57 P.M.

Moonrise 5:13 A.M. Moonset 6:06 P.M.

Venus Rises 6:02 A.M.

Mars Sets 9:41 P.M.

Jupiter Rises 2:52 A.M.

Saturn Sets 9:07 P.M.


Virgo, belly August 23- September 22

Libra reins September 23- October 22

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23 October 2014 Published in Monthly Almanacs

Holidays and Proclamation Days in October

October 3      Child Health Day

October 4      Yom Kippur – Jewish Day of Atonement 

October 6      German-American Day

October 9      Leif Erikson Day

October 11    General Pulaski Memorial Day

October 13    Columbus Day (2nd Monday)        

October 15    White Cane Safety Day; Poetry Day

October 18    Sweetest Day (3rd Saturday)

October 16    National Boss Day (Bosses Appreciation Day).

October 20    Alaska Day (3rd Monday)

October 24    United Nations Day 

October 27    Theodore Roosevelt’s Birthday 

October 31    Halloween

                        Nevada Day

                        Youth Honor Day -  Iowa


23 October 2014 Published in Monthly Almanacs

November is a rather cold and dreary month. Weather systems crossing relatively warm Lake Ontario into colder air lead to frequent cloudy days in the Mohawk Valley. There are occasionally a few warmer days with afternoon high temperatures sometimes reaching 60°, but most of the time temperatures are under 50°F and a jacket is needed and occasionally a winter coat, as mornings are often frosty.

The landscape is predominantly gray and brown, with a dash or two of burnt orange or crimson of sumac or the few leaves that remain. This quickly changes with the first seasonal snowfall. In some recent years, we received only a trace of snow in November. Most years, however, the Mohawk Valley receives its first significant snowfall in November.

21 February 2010 Published in Celebrations & Festivals

A Long Tradition in Utica

St. Patrick's Day and winter hibernation ends with music and marching in the streets, and dancing, and clowns passing out treats to children and various other friends. Everyone's Irish and wearing green, eating and drinking, having a fling as the year shifts from winter to spring. A happier crowd is seldom seen.

St. Patrick's Day is March 17. Many people wear some green, shirts, vests, and hats, while some wear green hair. Irish tunes are popular on the radio, and people may be heard whistling an Irish tune.

March is widely observed as Irish Heritage Month. Many communities have special concerts of Irish music and dancing at this time of year. There is also the tradition of corned beef and cabbage offered at many restaurants. However, the largest event for many people is the tradition of a St. Patrick's Parade.

New York has one of the largest and best known of these parades. But there are other cities and towns across New York State such as Syracuse, Rochester, and Old Forge with parades celebrating the Patron Saint of Ireland which coincides with the beginning of spring.

One of the largest parades with a long tradition of over 30 years is in Utica. Most years this is on the Saturday before the March 17th. In Utica, Varick Street has traditionally been the focus of the local festivities. It is the busiest weekend of the year for the bars and restaurants in the Brewery district. Many offer corned beef and cabbage, washed down with green beer.

The modern tradition of a St. Patrick's Parade in Utica began in the late 1970s with the Emerald Society including Vincent Courrou Jr., and John Oakes. Many of the plans for these parades were discussed at the Shoe Two Bar on Varick Street near Lafayette Street. This bar was destroyed by fire many years ago. By 1984, over 10,000 spectators crowded West Utica when the parade still was on Varick, Court, and Columbia Streets. That year there were 60 marching units, six bands, and 25 floats. John Oakes said the parade had grown since the first year when there were only four units.

In the early 1990s, Dolly Parton was in town for a March performance, and the parade had by then been moved to Genesee Street for crowd control and safety issues. It started to snow early in the day, and her concert was postponed a night. On late night television the next week she mentioned watching from her hotel window the parade that went on despite the snow and biting cold.

On March 15, 2008, the streets of Utica came alive with about 40,000 people for the parade. It was reported as the third largest parade in the state. This has become an annual festival for the city celebrating the Irish and the return of spring. The weather was overcast, but mild, near 40 degrees. Many musical groups including bag pipes, fife and dru corps and marching bands added to the excitement with a wide variety of parade music. There were also Irish dancers, clowns, numerous fire departments, and a state of the art electric hybrid bus manufactured by local Orion Bus Industries. Numerous radio stations and other commercial enterprises also participated.

As the parade came down Genessee Street from Oneida Square to Columbia Street, traditional Irish bagpipes and marching bands filled the air with music, providing over an hour of celebration of the end of winter.

The Great American Irish Festival continued to be a major organizer of the 31st annual parade held on March 14, 2009. (They also sponsor an Irish festival at nearby Frankfort Fair Grounds in July). This parade included Sixteen floats, eight bag pipe bands from as far away as Syracuse and Binghamton, and eight other bands. There were a total of over 130 units, according to Director Kevin Dowling in the Observer Dispatch. It also attracted the largest crowd in ten years, and Utica's parade remains one of the largest in the state to celebrate the Irish.

This is usually the first large outdoor event of the year, the warmer weather and parade providing a great opportunity to meet old friends not seen about during the winter. What a wonderful way for the community to come together in anticipation of spring after our cold, snowy winter.


This Week in History by Frank Tomaino, Utica Observer Dispatch, March 15, 2009

Utica Observer Dispatch, March 15, 2009 and March 16, 2008

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.

22 February 2010 Published in Celebrations & Festivals

The Maple Moon or Moon of the Worm

March is a month of transition between winter and spring, often with an unpredictable season almost all its own. The temperatures in Upstate New York can range from an unusually warm 80 F down to sub zero Fahrenheit. This pulsating tension between the cold winter and warmer weather patterns and increasing daylight coincides with the vernal equinox, the Pascal Moon, and the Easter season to the European mind.

Before the French explorers of the 16th century and English, French, and Dutch settlers of the 17th century, the indigenous peoples knew the full moon near the equinox as the Worm Moon. This was when the worms started bringing castings to the surface, and robins started to reappear after their winter's absence.

There were other names for the moon by some tribes. The Crow Moon honored the late winter flocking of crows. In the far north, the Crusty Moon recognized the particular hard crusting of snow in late winter. Some tribes came to call it Sap or Maple Moon. This latter name evolved from the rising flow of the sap as days start to warm and winter changes to spring in fits and starts.

Early origins of Maple

The exact origins of the discovery of maple sap and its distillation, or processing, into syrup is impossible to determine with any firm historical accuracy. While a few authorities think the processing of the sap was taught to the Indians by the Europeans, they are in the minority. Most historians believe that various indigenous tribes had a knowledge of this sweet prior to contact with the Europeans. Lack of firm archeological proof and a lack of written records from the various tribes leave the debate open to conjecture and dispute, though there is much to support that the Indians did know about, and use this sweet, albeit in a much cruder fashion than is common today.

Maple trees observed during his explorations of Quebec were written about by Jacques Cartier in 1540. Recognition of the Indians using the refined sap as sugar and syrup dates from about 1557 in writings of Andre Thevet. Details of collection and distillation of sap by the Micmac Indians of eastern Canada were noted by Marc Lescarbot in 1606.

Before the Europeans came, the eastern woodlands were populated by numerous tribes with similar customs. From eastern Canada, Quebec, and New England to the Great Lakes states, they celebrated many of the same moons and seasonal festivals, and ate mostly the same types of game. These varied but slightly from region to region. They often, however, spoke distinct languages in various language groups.

Indian Legends on the Origins of Maple Syrup

There is a common myth, with many tribal variations, that the Creator originally made life too easy for his People, with maple trees having a syrup that flowed year round. One day, Glooskap (this name has many variations) arrived at a village and found it strangely quiet. No children or dogs came to greet him, the gardens were over grown with weeds, and the cooking fires were dead. He found the villagers lying in the maple grove, with the delicious sap running into their mouths from the trees.

Glooskap had special powers. Using a birch bark bucket, filled with water from lake, he rose above the trees and filled the trees with water until the sap ran thin. Then he encouraged his People of the village with a fiery speech. In this exhortation, he berated them for being lazy, and said as punishment the Creator was going to have the sap run only in the late winter. But, he urged them to take heed that when this happened, they would still be able to enjoy this special sweet, though only at this special time of year.

Another legend tells that an Algonquin or Iroquois Indian chief, Woksis, discovered this sweet sap in the following manner. One day, at the time the time of the melting snow, as he prepared to go hunting in a meager season of want and little game, he took his ax out of a maple tree where he had struck it a few inches into the bark the night before. His squaw happened to have a wooden or birch bark basket underneath, which collected the sap. Thinking that her warrior husband had filled it already with water, the squaw Moqua used the sap to cook some meat, most likely venison, though one source says moose meat. Upon his return, he was surprised by the sweet odor of the cooking meat. When eaten, the meat was sweet. They soon realized that this sweetness came from the sap of the maple tree.

While details are sketchy, this evolved into an annual festival of sorts, celebrated in traditional ways by the Onondagas in Central New York as recently as the 1940s. While this time of year was usually called the Worm Moon, some tribes began to call it the Maple Moon.

Soon they began to have a maple festival to celebrate this sweet that was available only during this time of change from winter to spring. Maple sap and syrup became a major source of sweetening, rivaling honey. Both of these sweets were an important food to the Iroquois., comprising about 12% of their diet.

Indian Methods of Sap Collection and Syrup Production

Lacking metal working capabilities prior to the European contact, the Iroquois methods of obtaining and evaporating the sap were crude. They hacked or gouged the tree with hatchets or axes, which often killed the tree. They used bowls, of ceramic or white birch bark to collect sap. Different bowls of pottery or wood, usually troughs of hollowed out trunks, were used for boiling the sap. They placed hot stones from the fires into the containers of sap. This brought the sap to a boil. The hot stones were periodically replaced to continue the process. Occasionally, if conditions were ideal, they froze the sap, peeling off the frozen surface daily. They threw away the ice and ate the residue underneath.

Maple season was fleeting and unpredictable, and it remains so to this day. High quality syrup production requires warm days to about 45 F or so alternating with nights below freezing. If days are exceptionally warm, or too many nights remain above freezing, the quality of the sap collected and the syrup produced suffers. There are large variations of the sap run, from nine days to 57 days, the average being 37 days of collection.

European Adaptations and Expansion of Maple Production

During the almost two centuries of contact the Iroquois and Algonquins had with the French, English, and Dutch, the Europeans learned about this maple production, and started to make improvements with their superior technologies. The fickleness of nature cooperating by providing sufficiently warm days and sub-freezing nights resulted in the attempts at moving maple syrup production into Virginia by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, among others, to be modestly successful at best, and finally abandoned. Maple production was much better quality and more reliable in New England, New York, and Quebec. While maple syrup production has occurred at one time or another in some 30 (present) US states, it was, and is, more common and of better quality in the north.

By the time of American Independence and subsequent dispersal of most of the Indians from the northeast, the Europeans had evolved methods of improved production of the maple sap and its sweet products that only very gradually changed over the next century and a half. It became a northeastern tradition of the short transitional season between winter and spring that provided a sweet loved by most Americans to this day.

The Maple Weekends in March in New York that have become increasingly popular in recent years owe their existence to the accidental discovery of this tasty treat by an Indian chief several centuries ago. As such, it is an important part of our historical heritage, as well as the specific natural conditions in our region that make it possible.

References - Books

Lawrence, James M., and Martin, Rux. Sweet Maple: Life, Lore & Recipes From the Sugarbush. Shelburne, Vermont: Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1993. Co published by Vermont Magazine, Montpelier, Vermont, 1993.

Klees, Emerson. Legends and Stories of the Finger Lakes Region. Rochester, NY: Friends of Finger Lakes Publishing, 1995

Schery, Robert W. Plants for Man. Englewoods CLiffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., C.1952, 4th printing 1959.

The Old Farmers's Almanac, editions for 2008, 2009, 2010. Yankee Publishing, Dublin, NH.

References - Internet

The Natural world Full Moon Names and Dates

Wakarusa (Indiana) Maple Syrup Festival

One Iroquois Legend

About Us

The Mohawk Valley Almanac provides a wide variety of information on fairs and festivals, wildlife, and the natural world in this historic region of central New York State. Many annual regional fairs and festivals celebrate the seasons, agriculture, historical and religious holidays, the arts, sports, and ethnic heritage of the diverse population. The natural world of birds and other wildlife, weather, astronomy, and gardening in a climate with cold and snowy winters are also featured.

We hope to make the Mohawk Valley Almanac a gateway to this area of Central New York for anyone interested in the natural world and regional festivals of the greater Mohawk Valley. Come back and visit often for new information. Contact us on the link below for further information or to subscribe to our monthly almanac newsletter.

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