Writer boils down maple sugaring industry

Douglas Whynott.
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Douglas Whynott.

Douglas Whynott is fascinated with traditional New England industries. The author of five books and Emerson College writing professor has published works on commercial beekeeping, Cape Cod’s bluefin tuna, Maine boatyards, and veterinary clinics. In his latest book, the recently released “The Sugar Season: A Year in the Life of Maple Syrup — and One Family’s Quest for the Sweetest Harvest,’’ Whynott chronicles a sugaring season at Bascom’s Maple Farm in New Hampshire during one of the warmest years in history. The book follows the Bascom family through the 2012 season, weaving in looks at the trade, history, and culture of the maple syrup industry and an outlook on its future amid the threat of climate change.

Q. How did you first become interested in the maple syrup industry? What exactly made you decide to write about it?

A. We moved to New Hampshire in 1997. I was working at Mount Holyoke. My wife became a third-grade teacher, and every year around this time when the sugar season was on its way, she would take her students to the sugarhouse. In 1999, I learned that the Asian longhorned beetle infestation attacked maple trees and wondered what the effect would be if they got into New Hampshire. Wondering this got me in touch with Bruce Bascom. He was so passionate about the industry that I became much more interested — thinking he would be a great guy to follow around for a while and write about. I was able to then convince a publisher that this was more than a small story — maple syrup is an iconic product.

Q. How does the book break up in your mind?

A. I made the three thematic lines: Bruce Bascom, a changing climate, and the international story of the Canadian syrup heist. The relationship between foresters and trees is essentially the soul in the book. The maple syrup industry can be a model to see environmental problems and how we look at them. The mentality for forest planning is the same mentality that we need dealing with the human effects of climate change.

Q. What stood out about the Bascom’s compared to other sugar farms? What’s something that strongly resonated with you?


A. His farm produces one quarter of all maple syrup in New Hampshire. Bruce was a businessman and came to the farm with a different sensibility — it was about production and making a profit. But it was also about his efforts to improve things. [His father ran the business before him.] He wanted to run a company and employ people and support livelihoods. His story was much more than someone who just makes 100-200 gallons in the spring. His story has so many elements.

Q. What was the most challenging part about writing this?

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A. It’s so technical — tapping trees, tubing, vacuum parts, the data to find the right balance and make it interesting. And writing about the theft was challenging. It’s a sensitive issue with the Quebec heist and the trials yet to come. I had to very careful about that.

Q. What are you trying to achieve with this book? How do you want to reach people?

A. I want people to understand that climate change is real and that there will be a consequence for this industry and others. If we aren’t careful with increasing emissions, then the climate of New Hampshire will be like the climate of North Carolina.

Alex Stills can be reached at