We tapped three of our sugar maple trees last week. Carter pulled down the big sugaring pot, the turkey fryer, and the propane tank from the top shelf in the garage. Meanwhile, I gathered up the six, clean metal taps, a small hammer, a drill bit and our old hand drill, and headed out to our beloved sugar maple trees. Two of them—the oldest and largest—are on our back deck, just a few yards from the house. The third tree stands at the bottom of our small meadow out back.
We’ve been waiting for this time of year ever since it ended in early spring last year. Back then, we had collected about a gallon-and-a-half of delectable maple syrup from our trees. The syrup lasted us through the year. We used up our last few drops only a few weeks back. Since then, we’ve been watching the temperatures closely, waiting for that just-right time of year when the nights are freezing and the days warm up into the forties and fifties. This is when our trees run the best.
We may have jumped the gun on this, but we are too excited to wait any longer. Normally, we don’t have “sugaring” weather until sometime in mid-February, but this has not been a normal winter, by any means. My small pond is typically frozen solid with two or three inches of ice from November to April. This winter, it’s seen very few frozen days. I’m not complaining. It’s been nice to have a slightly warmer winter. It’s easy to warm the house with our wood stove when the outside temperatures are in the thirties, and at these temps it seems that the woodpile lasts forever. Not so when the temperature drops into the teens and twenties during the days and nights. Carter feeds the hungry wood stove hourly on such days, and I’m out chopping kindling more than I care to say.
But this winter has been kind to us. I don’t know if this is a false spring, or if perhaps spring is just coming early, but our asparagus spears have already poked their tiny lances up to the very tip of the mulch that blankets them in the winter. “Don’t be in too big a hurry,” I tell them. “Keep your heads under cover. There’s plenty of time.” I always talk to our vegetables. I believe, unequivocally, that they hear me.
Corn salad, my favorite kind of lettuce, is busy making her sweet rosettes on the edge of the raised beds. The comfrey plants are sending up strong shoots, and yesterday, I saw the first pale and fat leaves of our rhubarb making an appearance through the wild strawberry plants.
The same temperatures that are calling up the new leaves in the vegetable garden are calling up the sap in the maple trees. And on certain days, when the forest exhales the sweet and fecund breath of spring, I feel the sap rising in myself, as well. You know that feeling, don’t you? It’s as though every particle in your body begins humming and thrumming, and you could almost swear—when the rising is strong inside of you—that gravity may have loosened her hold on your ankles just a tiny bit.
This is one of spring’s most precious gifts: that sense of renewal, anticipation, and glad-heartedness that just picks you up off of your feet and twirls you around. I sense these spring urgings in my body for short, sacred bursts of time. Sometimes they last for a fleeting moment, and sometimes—when I am out in the garden or by my pond futzing with dirt, leaves, and water—spring vibrates inside of me for a time out of time itself.
Then, just as suddenly the skies go black and the wind picks up and flings shards of frigid cold against my arms and face, and I feel the tight grip of winter pull me back down to the frozen earth. I love these shoulder seasons, though. These days and weeks when the seasons argue among themselves whose turn it is come and go and come again.
Outside my window, the Carolina wren sings so loudly you’d think she’d explode with excitement. Our maple trees are keeping their sap to themselves for the time being. But in my chest, I can feel the precious awakening of spring, and my own life blood begin its rising.
For all of us, may this be a spring that renews and replenishes in the deepest sense, and may the new dreams that arise within us be fruitful and good.