Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sue and Ivan versus the Volcano

The folks at Lusscroft Farm have been tapping the property's maple trees in preparation for a maple sugaring event held on St. Patrick's Day weekend. I only became aware of it a day or two beforehand, and I insisted that we had to make a return visit to see whether New Jersey maple syrup is better than the Vermont variety.

We'd just stumbled on the place the first time we visited, so this time I made sure we had the address plugged into the GPS. Rather than bringing us to the front gate, it took us around the side, past a surprising street sign:

Sorry for the blurriness of the photo. I guess I was so excited
that my hand was shaking, plus I was using a phone camera.
A volcano? This was a new one on me. The last time I ran into a sign like this on the road, I was in Hawaii, where you're driving on literal volcanoes all the time. New Jersey, it need not be said, is not exactly known for its volcanic activity. Then again, the hill we were driving on did seem kind of different from the others we'd traversed in Sussex County.

A little bit of research revealed a little bit of information. Rutan Hill, as it's called, is, indeed, a 440 million year-old extinct volcano. Not only is it the only one in New Jersey, it's one of the two spots in the state where one can see the natural occurrence of nepheline syenite, a very rare igneous rock with origins in magma. The volcanic action also essentially baked the surrounding sedimentary rock, which we saw as we hiked around Lusscroft. A lot of the stones seemed a little grayer than what you usually see, and maybe a little more crumbly, but that might have just been my perspective.

Given the title of this entry, you're probably wondering if we went to the peak of the volcano to make a symbolic sacrifice. Well, in true Jersey fashion, the road was marked "PRIVATE -- DO NOT ENTER," and while we surmised that residents had put the sign up illegally to deter curiosity seekers, we didn't want to take any chances. And sadly, builders had already made a sacrifice we'd never dream of: they covered the apex of the hill with a house. Those attempting to get a view of a geologic wonder are left trying to imagine the volcano untouched by the hand of man.

The maple syrup quest was both interesting and disappointing. They'd sold out of syrup by the time we got there, but we got a little taste along with an education on the maple syrup process. For one thing, we learned that a grouping of tapped maple trees is called a sugarbush. And the sap gathering process isn't what we expected. Instead of gallon buckets hanging from individual taps, they use a vacuum-sealed system of flexible tubing that collects the sap and delivers it, by gravity, to a central receptacle downhill. Pretty cool!

I guess you could say that for the day, the state-by-state comparisons were a mixed bag. On volcanoes, New Jersey definitely pales in comparison to Hawaii, but to this taste tester, our maple syrup is definitely on a par with Vermont's!

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