Maple trees are widespread across northeastern North America. The Native Americans of this region learned to collect the running sap from the maples in late winter/early spring, and to boil it down making a sweet syrup and even candy. Farmers across this area having stands of maple trees on their land (called "sugar bushes") borrowed this practice from the Native Americans. Early on, they would tap or drive tubes into the trees and collect the dilute but sweet sap moving upwards from the roots into buckets. The sap would then be collected into a large vat loaded on a sled pulled across the snow by oxen, horses or a mechanized vehicle. It would be carried to the sugar house where it would be boiled down in a wood-fired evaporator, and bottled for use on pancakes, waffles, etc.
Today the buckets or pails have been for the most part replaced by extensive networks of plastic tubing that carry the sap directly from the trees to collecting stations, from which it is transported to the sugar houses.
I photographed in March 1975 sugaring operations in the hill towns of western Massachusetts. This photo of a sugar house was scanned from slides that I took in 1975. Note the sap pails and typical New England stone wall in the foreground.