Monday was the vernal equinox, and though we had a lovely day on Tuesday, the past few days have been brutal and fierce. The mornings run twenty degrees, but the howling wind sets you back another ten degrees. I usually walk down by the river, but the winds whip down the carved channel of the water, and it takes no prisoners. Tuesday was the kind of spring day I like best: the snow melted in the sun, the sound of dripping is everywhere, no wind, and here and there I would see things that had lost their blanket of snow: tulip bulbs sending leaves out, the daffodil buds still sheathed in a thin membrane—will they unfurl? Or is it too far gone? The chives, bursting forth, a little worse for wear, bent and stunted by the cold snow. I even saw my first robin, hopping on the ground, his dear profile immediately recognizable.
After twelve years of being here, we finally got around to tapping some of the magnificent maple trees on our land. I must say that although I like maple syrup very much, I was a little hesitant to drill holes in our trees. Especially after reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohleben. A friend asked: doesn’t it hurt the trees? I’m sure it does—isn’t it a wound? Isn’t sap just the blood of a tree? Sounds particularly dastardly to bleed something so you can boil it down only to pour it on your morning porridge, doesn’t it? Perspective can be difficult sometimes. Most documents I referred to on this acknowledged the possible damage to a tree, though the wound will heal over. As the trees leaked into the bucket, I thanked them for their sap, though I wasn’t sure what I could give in return. My continued reverence?
I have a deep love for trees. They ground me. When I am walking, though I notice small things here and there, the trees are really what are with me every moment. They are constant. I form relationships with some. Sometimes I take a moment to visit with certain trees I am particularly drawn to, or sometimes if my mind is racing with things I have to get done, I stop and put my hand on a tree to remind me where I am. There is a double tulip poplar that I love—two huge straight poplars coming out of the same spot, shooting into the sky. And there are trees I remember that are now gone, like the old gnarled beech tree that looked like an elephant, or even the mulberry from ages ago, in my back yard, the one I used to climb and eat berries from all summer long. I feel like trees are the whales of the land, deep and mysterious and knowing. Forests always have a certain depth and mystery to them that I feel can be attributed in a great part to trees.
Some of the trees we tapped have been generous—the ones on the driveway, in particular, probably because they are warmer, the snow has been cleared off their roots and the sap is flowing busily. The trees that are further off, and still under snow, are not as forthcoming. Still, I was able to collect a few gallons, and I spent that spring-like Tuesday boiling it off on my propane grill. Maybe not the best or least expensive choice, but the fire pit is still under a foot of hard snow, so propane it would have to be. I started the sap to boil at 9 a.m. By noon it was starting to turn golden, and smelled absolutely delicious: caramel, vanilla and that telltale maple smell. I tapped only sugar maples, as the reds had already begun to bud, and they say that leads to “buddy” smelling syrup. The sap had boiled off quite a bit of water by about two o’clock. I finished the syrup on the stove top for another hour. The resulting syrup was lighter than I expected, and the yield was higher, though I might have not boiled it down enough. But it was sweeter than I expected as well! I had some for breakfast, on yogurt, and it was truly a treat. Bless those trees!