Local View —Sap suckers—

If you linked to this post to learn about the woodpecker called a sapsucker, you can move on, because this post is about humans thirsting for the light after winter darkness, with that light seeming as vital to human survival as sap is to the buds of trees.

I am feeling elated about seeing another spring, mostly because I was downright maudlin in the autumn, and basically figured I’d be pushing up daisies by now. One of the benefits of being prone towards hypochondria is how darn good you feel when you don’t die.

One of the things I did last fall was to plant a mess of bulbs all over the place, thinking it was sweet of me to plant flowers I might never see, and that maybe I’d be fondly recalled when they came up and bloomed in unexpected places in the spring. In some cases I think it is the voles that are fond of me, as they got a free lunch, but here and there I can see a few starting to appear.  I’m glad to be here to see them.

We are not suppose to store up treasures here on earth, where moths can eat and rust can corrode, but rather we are advised to store up treasures in heaven. I’m not sure the tax collectors agree with that. They want us to sow so they can reap. At times I get fed up with them, for at times it seems doing the right thing is never a rewarding thing, here on earth. They have taxed my patience and taxed my philosophy, but I have seemed to come up with a bulletproof attitude in my old age. I know that, if I plant bulbs, the greedy will come to pick the flowers, but I also know where I have planted, and they don’t know about such things, for they don’t plant. They don’t know where to look. In many cases, by the time they register that flowers are blooming, and rush to pick them, the bloom is past its peak, and they wind up looking like ridiculous misers, hoarding withered flowers. I get my simple pleasures,  and they get to look like fools. I probably should pity them, but confess I do get a good laugh out of my way of looking at them, (even as they likely get a good laugh out of me).

In any case, considering I was not all that sure I’d be here, I’m getting a lot of joy from this spring.  It has occurred to me that a lot of the trees around here are my age, or even older, and this means I never planted them. I am the beneficiary of some one else, who I never knew, who planted them. In some cases it was a forgotten man, and in some cases it was a forgotten squirrel, or a wind I never knew blowing seeds through the air, but I do know it wasn’t me. I make sure to thank them.

I seem to be thanking a lot more than I used to, and am thankful even for the annoyance of this weather map and radar map:

20160321 satsfc 20160321 rad_ne_640x480

You can click these maps if you care to enlarge them, but they basically show a storm zipping up the coast of the USA, and giving us, on the first full day of spring, which happened to be a Monday and the start of a workweek, a picture like this:Spring Snow IMG_1976If you look at the picture you’ll notice signs that the driveway was hand-shoveled. I did it, which is pretty good for an old guy who thought he might be pushing up daisies by now. I just didn’t want the awful noise of the snow-blower, for only four inches of fluff. It was a joy to be out. When the drive was half done I mentioned, to an employee at the childcare, that I didn’t want to hog all the pleasure, and would trade jobs if she wanted to escape the kids and just enjoy the silence and beautifully white world. She jumped at the chance. It was a beautiful, brief time of whirling white.

At first the kids, who tend to only be half-wake when they arrive, only wanted to hear stories, or play with dolls or blocks, but soon they wanted out, and after the usual battle to dress them all, the silence outside was broken.

Sap 1 IMG_1981

However so high is the sun that by a little after lunch time the snow was shrinking, and the engineering of snowmen was downsized, because resources were shrinking and it was obvious they wouldn’t last long.

Sap 2 IMG_2068And so penetrating and brilliant was the sunlight that by afternoon the snow was completely gone by the south-facing wall, where the boys played with trucks (allowing us to clean the indoors before closing).Sap 3 IMG_2076

Of course the trees felt the sun, and the maple sap began flowing like gangbusters. My son, who has tapped 20 trees, can’t keep up, and now has 90 more gallons collected than he’s managed to boil on the back  porch.Sap 4 IMG_2089

I know how much work is involved, and my ambition has dwindled over the years, until now I only have a single tap, for the entertainment of the children at the Childcare. It never fails to amaze them how swiftly the sap comes dribbling from the tree, when you drill the hole, and they line up to take turns simply watching the drops tap the bottom of the bucket.Sap 5 IMG_2097

A lot of boiling is involved to make the syrup or candy. This late in the season it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, and a gallon of syrup only makes around three pounds of candy. The older kids were telling the younger kids how good the candy was, remembering from last year, but they had forgotten how long it took to boil all the water away. They wanted immediate gratification, so I told them we could skip the bother of boiling, and even could skip the bucket, and they could just drink the drops as they came out of the tree. Even though you can barely taste the sugar, the kids were amazingly enthusiastic, and lined up to take turns, and wanted “seconds” and “thirds”. Sap 7 IMG_2105Sap 6 IMG_2102

Even though I’ve seen all this before, I was strangely thirsty to see it again, because for some odd reason I seem to either be seeing it for the first time, or for the first time in fifty years.

How is it people forget how they craved
The spring when young; the way they sniffed sunlight
Like they’d gone prehistoric, preferring caved
Corners of south-facing cliffs to the bright
Nesting of their electric living-rooms,
And ran their eyes over greening tree tops
Like fingers through hair. Reborn from the tombs
Of midwinter gloom their eyes sought snowdrops
In dead garden leaves, with the sun so intense
Even the dead leaves made eyes squint happy,
And even without flowers one sniffed incense,
And even without poems one was sappy
As the wanted light filled ones very veins.
I cannot forget it, while this pulse remains.

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LOCAL VIEW –Sapping Taxing Times–

The most miserable times of my life were when my parents separated, and told me nothing because they wanted to “spare” me. (As if a child doesn’t notice a disappeared father.) I think the second winter was the worst, likely because I gradually was worn down by the unceasingly insidious depression, and very quietly underwent a childish breakdown, culminating in a ferocious case of influenza that laid me so low I spent two weeks in bed, including a couple of days of hellish fever dreams (which made me very able to understand and even help people having bad trips on LSD, a half-decade later.)

The good part was that, when I was finally allowed out of bed. it happened to be the first day of winter vacation, so I missed three weeks of school, altogether. Sometimes I think this may have contributed to my recovery more than anything else, for school was poison.

I’d been skipped ahead a grade, which made me the youngest and smallest boy in my class. Being skipped ahead was suppose to challenge and uplift me, but I didn’t find school particularly uplifting.  It was a time of life when twelve months makes a big difference, and all the other children had gone (in my eyes) utterly mad, due to the onset of hormones, while I retained the sanity of childhood. Not that I didn’t boyishly blush when girls smiled at me, but they had stopped doing that, because I seemed to shrink to a point where I practically looked up at their kneecaps when I danced with them. I can’t really blame them for not wanting me to ask them to dance, but, at a time I really could have used some affection, I became the opposite of a status symbol at school. It was no fun going there. A sick bed was preferable. Perhaps even dying was preferable.

I’m sure I sound melodramatic, but it truly was a time when affection came in crumbs, few and far between. My mother had always been distant, and now she was overworked as well, a single-mother pulling twelve-hour-shifts as a night-nurse. The heat was turned down to save on the oil bill, and we suddenly had only 40 watt bulbs, and the darkness and cold was creeping in on me. I never got hugged. It was a very big deal when I got a “Mighty Max” winter coat. That felt almost like a hug, but then the fever hit.

I know affection mattered, because the day I suddenly thought I might be feeling much better was the day my mother efficiently brought the daily hospital-tray with soup and crackers to my sickbed, and matter-of-factly mentioned, “Some girl named Sandra asked about you at the market. She said she hopes you’re feeling better.” I suddenly felt warm and fuzzy. Sandra and I went back a long way.

Love at first sight 13

It is strange what small things can separate times when you constantly feel chilled and shivering, from times you feel so warmed that you can play for hours in the snow and never feel the cold at all. As a boy a girl’s smile could do it, but I never even saw Sandra’s smile, and her parents took her off to Florida for that vacation.

Vacations were always a blessed break from the humiliations of school, but that particular vacation seemed especially blissful, as I did all the things that boys do well, and skipped all the humiliating botheration of dances and sporting teams and homework and tests.

Towards the end of that vacation I did one of the dumb things that boys do so well, which usually make girls detest them. I meant to get a pretty girl’s attention with a snowball, but she turned at just the wrong time and stooped, and the snowball plastered her face like a pie. She was tearful and also absolutely furious, and I felt pretty bad about the attention I had successfully earned, but just then a stroke of genius flashed through my brain. As she ineffectually attempted to fling snowballs into my face I pretended terror, and backed away further and further up a roadside snowbank, until I pretended to fall off the top into a snow-covered bush, uttering a long, drawn-out wail. When I popped my  head up through the snow to see how effective my act had been, I saw the girl laughing, with a warm light in her eyes, and, at the very least, knew I wasn’t loathed any more.

Though my small success didn’t put me up there with Don Juan or James Bond, I felt pretty good about myself after that. To my surprise the sensation lasted even after school started. I didn’t suddenly get “A’s”, or abruptly become the shortest person ever to make the basketball team, but my mood was so good I did manage to stay out of troubles I found for myself, back when I felt bad. There is something about a cringing person that makes you want to give them a swat, but no one wanted to swat me any more, and in fact I was so charming and cheerful that even my fantastic excuses-for-undone-homework brought out the mercy in the grouchier teachers. It amazed me, and I felt like I was on what gamblers call “a roll” and baseball players call “a streak”. It is a wonderful thing, but no one really knows how it happens. In my life it always seems like a warm avalanche overwhelming, set off by the smallest pebble of kindness.

On that long-ago  March First a warm west wind was blowing and the air was filled with the hope of spring, and I climbed to the topmost branches of a tall hemlock next to my home and swayed in the wind, pretending I was up the mast of a clipper ship, and thinking how great I felt, and how great life was, and how odd it was to be free of the gloom that had plagued me all winter. For the first time in my life I felt the urge to express joy in a poem.  I ran out of gas nearly as soon as I started, but I still have the poem:

Spring is here;
It’s that time of year.
Snow will melt quick
And turn into ick.
Another thing to say
Can wait for another day.

Another day came, and went, becoming another decade that came and went, until now it is more than a half century that has come and gone, and still the First of March always gives me a strange sense that hope can appear from darkness, whether the darkness be night or winter or sickness. There is something miraculous about dawns and springs and healing. It is something beyond the dour mathematics of intellectual pragmatism. It defies the tax-accounting, insurance-adjusting mentality, which sees the ravages of time and speaks only of depreciation. Instead it speaks of appreciation.

I think it is a good thing that this mood hits me at this time of year, because it is at this time of year I have to face my taxes. I absolutely loath the paperwork, (perhaps because there is no excuse for not doing homework, at my age),  yet I often grumble the IRS is wise to hit us right when winter has us at our weakest, and we’re least prone to revolt. Boston-Tea-Party-Hero-ABHowever even in April you can push a people too far. Taxes are due April 15, and April 19 remembers Lexington:PatriotsDay1Some think such nonsense is left in the past, but it isn’t. Patriot’s Day is no picnic any more. Boston-Marathon-Bombing

Maraton Victims 58f086c80d57462f94b6836743ec689d-58f086c80d57462f94b6836743ec689d-0-9429Once the prospect of war would have made me thirst to enlist,  (even if I enlisted to be bloodied protesting as a pacifist), but now the glare tends to leave me glum and depressed, and fails to uplift me to the mood I felt as a boy up at the top of a hemlock. The gradual deepening of shadows across the landscape of our times depresses me, and reminds me more of being a boy in my sickbed, fearing the shadows in the corners of my room. I feel old, less strong, less able to take on the lunacy I live amidst. Once I’d take on a tiger on a dare, but now I’m not so sure that would be wise. After all, I’m getting to an age where I’d get some odd looks, if I climbed a hemlock to feel the wind in my face. Even a snapped-off hemlock leaning at a 45 degree angle might test me, though I confess I was tempted, as I watched a boy scramble up one today.Climbing Hemlock IMG_1836

It would be nice if the government treated us elderly geezers with respect, but the elderly might as well be a pack of Rodney Dangerfields. We get no respect.Dangerfield P_Rodney_Dangerfield_1

As soon as a parent or parents has at long-last gotten a child through college, the government increases his or her (or their) taxes, by taking away the “benefit earned” by having a “dependent” on tax returns.  (That word “benefit”irks me, for I am not the one “benefiting” from paying taxes. The government is.)

Not that the economy has much to offer our young graduates when they leave college. Many are unemployed, and they are not avoiding getting a Real Job as I once did, (claiming my real work was to be an “arteest”). Modern youth would work a Real Job if they could, (and in fact they must, to pay off their absurd college loans), but no such Real Jobs exist, thanks to the stupidity of the government’s economic planning, (and the stupidity of they who taught. In fact I think colleges should only be paid with a percentage of graduate’s actual earnings.)  In any case,  the parent must continue to help out, if they really care.

I think this is now a financial fact, and living-with-parents no longer should involve the shame it once did, (as long as the young adult doesn’t waste themselves away, playing video games in their parent’s basement.)

My middle son graduated with a (seemingly) fairly useless college degree in Biology, but he isn’t sitting around waiting for the perfect job to open up (where he would get paid for studying The Songbirds Of Paradise). He’s constantly sending out applications for such  dream-jobs, while working two humbling jobs (at a hospital and coffee shop)  just to meet the mortgage-sized payments on his college loan. So of course I am not going to charge for a spare bedroom. The colleges get the money, as the parents get the shaft.

One thing I am particularly envious of is my son’s energy. After two jobs he keeps right on going, charging off to do something that interests him, such as borrowing a “camera trap” to set up in the woods. (He only seemed slightly discouraged when this effort only rewarded him with 63 pictures of Gray Squirrels.)

Recently I pottered outside to see this odd stuff strung from trees in my snowless backyard:Tapping Maples 1 IMG_1832And this was on my back porch as well:Tapping Maples 2 IMG_1831

I know this is the newfangled way of tapping maples and making maple sugar, and begrudgingly confessed it was amazing that my son had done so much with so little money. He basically bought cheap plumbing-tubing and borrowed stuff. However he soon had a crowd of friends laughing on that porch, as they boiled sap on a Sunday, and I had to be careful changing out of my Sunday-go-to-meeting pants in my own bedroom, because the crowded porch was just outside that bedroom’s window. All the noise and laughter made me grumpy. Largely I think I was just plain jealous.

Mostly I was envious of the energy of youth, and the ability of youth’s hope to forge ahead without seeing all the glitches and pitfalls inherent in hopeful plans. (My son now has a hundred gallons of sap and no free time to boil them). (But we do already have a half gallon of maple syrup; I’d never have the energy to do that; it took me all season last year to get a half gallon, because I only tapped a single tree.) (As I get older my projects get smaller.)

In conclusion I simply have to confess I’m confused. I’m not sure how much of my grouchy mood is mere jealousy, because I don’t have the energy to do what I once did, and how much of my grouchy mood is justified, because I’m an elder, and I deserve respect, damn it all,  and not increased taxes, damn it all. Though my body may be depreciated, I deserve to be appreciated.

TWO SONNETS; POWERLESS AND POWER-MAD

Your will be done, but I tire. The long drought
Stretches like a dry winter: No snowscapes
Catch full moonlight. No victorious shout
Proclaims impossible dreams. Now I pout
Like a child disgruntled, or a dull Jack
Created by too much toil. Let Your song
Be freed. Let me sweetly fall back in love,
For what is work without love? I long
For the quick glance I’m always singing of,
But You seem indifferent. Give one glance.
For I know the difference one glance can make.
It’s been years, but beaming eyes can lance
The dragon of despair, and make a heart break
The chains of aching gray, as sweetest tears
Flow freely. Look at me. It’s been years.

I have seen how tiresome are the trinkets
Of wealth and fame, and how foolish are those
Who trample to gain, who sow cruel thickets
Of penned pain, and reap thorns without a rose.
They tramp pompously strutting through the lush landscape
Of my life, proof positive that to win
By grabbing is about as sweet as rape,
And the only smiles gleaned are a skull’s grin.
I’d rather remember the kind, whose deeds
Gained not wealth nor fame, but blossoming smiles
Even from soured faces. Such caring truly feeds
The hungry; heals the sick. As I cross the miles

Left to cross, I want to see that flower.
So give me not wealth or fame, but that power.

LOCAL VIEW —Craving Spring—

I’m up late, boiling maple sap on the porch, and feeling the chill creep in at the edges of the house, as the temperature is down to 25° ( -3.9° Celsius).  To be honest, it doesn’t feel much like April at the moment. Yet another in a seemingly endless series of arctic high pressures has sunk south over us, getting in the way of balmy Chinook winds that make places like Montana warmer than New Hampshire. (Click map to clarify and enlarge.)

20150401 satsfc

Looking at the above map, it looks all the world like the high pressure will move east and some nice, south winds will move over us, from the west. However I’m skeptical, due to seeing such golden promises before, and seeing that all that gets to us is a brief patch of mild rain, or even an occlusion, with all the mildness aloft, and things down where I live cold, gray, and clammy.

I’m not all that grouchy about how things have turned out, for we have been through a sort of drought, and the deep snow cover has slowly but steadily shrunk, without the floods you might expect. At the start of March we had towering snowbanks and four feet of snow on the level, and if you had offered me even money on a bet that we would get through the entire month of March without a major snowstorm or, worse, rainstorm, I would have taken the bet, and would have lost.

In essence winter had us up against the ropes, and could have slugged us to tweet-tweet; look-at-the-birdie-land with even a modest nor’easter. However somewhere someone must have prayed a good prayer. You don’t see it too often in boxing matches, but dropping to your knees and praying for mercy when you are up against the ropes is apparently a good strategy, providing you remember to jump back to you feet before the referee counts to ten.

In any case, we’ve made it to April. I walked out into the garden today to measure how deep the snow is, and it is less than a foot now, in places.  However it is “corn snow”, which is granular crystals of ice which, if you measured them, each would be a cube with sides of an eighth of an inch, or a little more. It is dense stuff, and needs some nice days with temperatures up in the seventies ( above 21° Celsius ) to get rid of it. We are having trouble getting up to fifty (10° Celsius).

This is exasperating to me, as a farmer. In the Spring of 2012 I already had my peas, spinach, lettuce, onions and Potatoes planted.  This April it is so cold that tonight even the maple sap will stop rising. (This is actually a good thing, if you are a farmer who supplements his income with maple syrup sales, but even these cold nights will not salvage this season for many. It has been so cold the season was very late to start, and the bright sun will convince trees to bud out even if temperatures stay cold, so many farms will only produce half as much syrup as last year.)

The landscape is still snowcovered, and the buds on trees haven’t even started to swell. When it does warm, what I am faced with is having to plant in a hurry. It looks like we will move from Winter to Summer with very little Spring. Rather than just sitting back and relaxing, I need to hustle and start flats of seedlings indoors, and then, when the snow finally is gone, to transplant like crazy.

For example, it takes lettuce roughly ten days between the day you plant it and the day you see the first tiny green plant. I can’t sit around waiting for the soil to thaw. Why not?  Because as soon as the weather gets hot, lettuce “bolts”, which means it turns, sometimes in only 48 hours, from nice leafy stuff you would want in your salad into a flower stalk that is amazingly bitter. Conclusion? If I wait for the soil to thaw, by the time ten days pass and the lettuce sprouts, the prime cool-weather lettuce-growing weather will be swiftly passing, however, if I plant little lettuce seedlings as soon as the soil thaws, the lettuce will be thriving during those same ten days, and I’ll have fat heads of lettuce to sell, and will get rich and drive about in a Cadillac.

Or maybe not. However this does give you a hint of the fact farmers cannot hide from Truth. The weather is what it is. Climate Scientists may be able to “adjust” and “homogenize” temperatures to get the results they want, but farmers face a Truth that can’t be fiddled with.

One time, when I was attempting to explain this Truth to a very secular person I deeply respect, he became exasperated, as if I was merely an idealistic airhead without any foundation in reality, and he told me, “You haven’t a clue how politics operates.”

Hmm. Perhaps I know all too well how far politics has drifted from Truth.

Politics over-focuses on power, with the mentality of a schoolyard bully, who has no idea it is better to be friends with people than to dominate with fear.

As a sort of proof, I ask you this: When you think of the word “power”, do you associate it it with the word “friend”, or the word “fear”?

Most of modern politics is scare-tactics. “Global Warming” is all about fear, and has little to do with love, trust, and friendship.

Truth, on the other hand, turns out to be closely associated to a thing called “Love.”

The proof is in the pudding. The farmer who attends to Truth has a garden that blooms, while the politician that fosters falsehood can only heap hate upon hate.

Eventually they have to throttle the voices of Truth, as is now occurring on “Twitter” where Steave Goddard and others are banned from stating the Truth about the “Global Warming” dogma.

I really don’t have time for this trivia, which Politicians think is so Big. Maybe if I was young and loaded with hormones I could get suckered into a fight with fat fools, but I’m old and it takes a bit more than moronic behavior to rouse the dying embers of my old fire. As far as I’m concerned, lettuce seedlings are more worthy of attention than a doomed president. However occasionally some nitwit provokes the gray ashes of my dying fire to a shower of sparks, as occurred when I read,

“I have read somewhere only one in two hundred is actually a leader, and to control a group all that is needed is to identify and break that leader.”

I had to respond, and my response was,

“The fallacy in this thought is that it fails to recognize the true power, behind the scenes, is Truth. For example, the boiling point of water doesn’t care who wins an election; it is what it is.

Over and over people are so seduced by the attractiveness of power that they resort to falsehood to grasp it. One way or another, they justify their wrongdoing, promising tomorrow to repay for today’s ripoff, making a mantra of “the ends justify the means”.

Then over and over you see such powerful people slowly rot, (often from the inside out), as their facade of well-being is slowly corroded by Truth. In the end Truth trumps all the cleverness of power politics, and even kings come to understand they are powerless before it. Maybe it isn’t as obvious as Nebuchadnezzar going mad for seven years, but it is a reality.

Perhaps it is due to something as simple as the fact that studying Truth leads to wisdom, while studying falsehood leads to ignorance, and ignorant people do ignorant stuff that, in the end, ruins them.”

Within those words is some poetry, and other artsy stuff, including the stuff that grows real lettuce. However politicians are interested in false lettuce (IE: the green leaves of dollar bills). Politicians are not interested in the cream, atop the milk of my life. What they are snorting after is my feces, the byproduct of my life.

If I seem bitter, it is because rather than writing poetry, I have to do my taxes.  I have to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”.  (The Bible politely calls this “filthy lucre”, but a truer translation is “feces”.)

Don’t get get me wrong. As a farmer I value feces. We call it “manure” and also “brown gold.” We understand it is not to be hoarded, and is best used to fertilize the fields. To be a miser of manure makes no sense. The sooner you can get rid of it and mix it into your garden, the lusher the lettuce crop will be.

If politicians and the IRS merely wanted to gather a huge pile of manure, deeming it the source of political power, it would be demented, but at least they might promise to dole it out to the actual gardeners who actually grow stuff. They would be like mothers who are more interested in collecting milk than in nursing their babes. However the madness of political correctness and “smart politics” has gone beyond even this.

It has even gone beyond the rare situation that dairy farmers occasionally see, wherein a mother cow or goat sucks her own teat for nourishment.

Things have gotten so out of hand that the current crop of politically correct politicians are not merely hoarding a huge heap of feces. They have actually started to eat the stuff.

As much as I resent the lack of appreciation the government displays towards poet-citizens like me, as they demand more and more of me, I sort of like the fact that, as their taxes take the byproduct of my hard work, they are eating my shit.

LOCAL VIEW —Boiling Maple Sap—

Sugar Shack DSC00379-1024x768 (Picture of sugar shack from http://hurryhillfarm.org/?attachment_id=332 )

Today was the first day I noticed my energy was even remotely like it was before I got clobbered by walking pneumonia. Having around a tenth of my ordinary energy felt so wonderful I was a hundred times as happy. Does that make sense? No, but it is typical for humans.  And I’ve known it since I was a teeny bopper:

It felt mysterious to be on the rebound. There was a magic in the air, simply because I was able to appreciate things again. Not only that, but a lot that I had been disgruntled by no longer gruntled me.  For example, the long winter had worn me down, and it might have taken me two trips to carry ten logs into the fire, where I once could stagger in with all ten at once, and it irked me to be older and slower. Now it might take me ten trips, but I’m as happy as a clam whistling Dixie. Does that make sense? No, but I’m enjoying life a lot more.

The worst part of being ill was to have the interest fade from everything. I have always felt Creation is full of beauty, yet people are strangely blind to it, and walk right by what could make them perfectly happy, always in a hurry to crave some distant thing they may never reach, but illness made me unable to practice what I preach. The light faded from things, and then came back again.

For example, as I drove the gang-of-six to kindergarten each day I noticed a flock of turkeys by the side of the road on the way. In my depressed state they were just annoying birds, liable to fly out into my way, be struck by the van, traumatize the kids by getting splatted, and make me feel guilty for the rest of the day. I’d slow and swerve well away from the side of the road, but they made the morning just a hair harder, and who needs that? And the stupid birds never learned. The next day they were in the same place, making my life a little harder, just a headache and a nuisance.

Then today, what a difference! Suddenly I was noticing the iridescence on the feathers in the morning sun, a ruby-bronze hue shimmering atop the deep brown feathers. I was also wondering over the size of the flock. There were ten birds, and, as a mother turkey usually only has around 10-12 chicks, that is a great survival rate. Most winters foxes and coyotes pick them off, one by one, and by spring you will only see a flock of two or three. (Sometimes two mothers will combine their troops, and a flock can start out as large as 24, and still shrink down to two or three.)  However this winter, with the snow so deep and powdery, foxes and coyotes couldn’t creep lightly over solid crust, and their floundering couldn’t get close before the turkeys would explode into flight and escape.

Suddenly the turkeys were a window into the winter woods, rather than an annoying bird making my day harder.  I found myself wondering what the turkeys found to eat, and also pictured the gaunt fox, starving, looking at the fat birds roosting up on branches longingly, and then snuffling deep down into the powder snow, hungry for a single mouse.

I haven’t seen any foxes yet this spring. Usually when they get hungry my chickens vanish. Maybe the foxes didn’t make it to spring. However I did make it, and so did my chickens.

We adopted a new chicken at the start of the winter. People tend to move from places that do allow  chickens to places that don’t, or children who pleaded to have cute chicks decide they don’t like grown chickens, and someone has to take in the orphaned hen, so we do. I mighht have thought I was all done with chickens four years ago, (when a very clever vixen managed to bring up her cubs on my hens), but somehow I always wind up with more chickens. However this particular refugee was especially traumatized, the sole survivor of a coop fire. Besides a damaged foot, a side effect of post-traumatic stress was that it utterly ceased laying eggs.  It was basically a useless bird, and I’m not sure why I didn’t just eat it. It was a bizarre looking, exotic type, with no comb, and a ring of fluff around its neck that looked like it was designed by Dr. Seuss. It was bigger than the other hens, but was bullied by them, so I had to make an extra effort to make sure it got food and water. Last week I was thinking I shouldn’t bother with the blasted thing, and muttered it only survived because I was too busy shoveling snow to deal with it, though I sure could have used some chicken soup as I first came down with my cold a couple of weeks ago. (Once I went to bed my wife did make a chicken soup, which may have been what cured me.)

In any case, as I got around to collecting eggs for the first time in a while today I found a new nest, away from the others, holding eggs as blue as a robin’s eggs. I showed them to the children at the childcare, telling them you know it has been a cold winter when the hens start laying blue eggs, but they said the eggs were blue because Easter is coming.

They were not all that interested in eggs, as their focus has been on maple sugar. The older kids have told the younger ones how delicious sugar-in-snow is, so I am sort of stuck with doing it. Last week it was just one more thankless task to grumble about, but this mysterious Monday the wonder awoke.

One wonder is how the trees draw the sap up. There are no leaves evaporating water at the top, creating a partial vacuum to suck sap upwards. The maple, without a heart or any sort of pump, or obvious valves (such as our veins have), must lift hundreds of pounds of sap to topmost twigs over sixty feet up in the sky. I’ve read various theories speaking of stuff like “capillary action,” but I find it hard to imagine capillary action could draw a liquid up that high, even in the finest tube, without the sheer weight of the liquid above creating a downward flow. However maples don’t care; they just do it.

The little kids don’t care either. They seem a little skeptical when I talk about sap rising, but when I drill the hole and insert the tap, and they see the clear sap immediately start dripping out, their eyes get very round. The softhearted want to know if it hurts the maple, and I say it is only a little prick, like they might get picking blackberries, and the tree will quickly heal the scratch, and the sap will stop (which is actually a concern of commercial tappers, and is why they make sure their taps are boiled clean of any residue from the prior year, as such residue will hold chemical signals that may hurry-up the healing.)

I am not in it for the money, and use an old-fashioned bucket. The children immediately want to taste the sap, apparently expecting maple syrup to pour from the tree. I let them taste the sap, and they can detect the faint sugar content, (which my jaded taste-buds can’t notice anymore).

Then we boil the sap, which is the most expensive part of the operation, and takes the most time, and involves paying careful attention or you wind up with a pot holding burned, black carbon (which I have managed to do more often than I like to confess).  (I have other things to do. Some spring I hope to arrange things to a situation where I can just sit and watch sap boil, but I haven’t managed that yet.)

It is interesting to note that the Indians apparently did little boiling. Mostly they allowed the sap to freeze, and threw out the ice. It has been cold enough this spring to allow me to throw out a lot of ice, and it works. The liquid that remains has a far more concentrated level of sugar.

It is also interesting to note that there was a cultural divide, among Indians, as to whether maple sugar was desirable or not. Not far south of here sugar maples apparently grew scarce, as the Medieval Warm Period made it too warm for such trees to grow further south. The Abernaki made maple sugar, and included it in their trail mix, but further to the south the Massachusetts Tribe sneered at people who ate sugar, especially the English, and when the English tried to trade them cane-sugar the Massachusetts didn’t want any.

As the cold conditions of the Little Ice Age set in it was largely the Puritan settlers that transplanted sugar maples down to the southern coasts of New England. They grew along roads and in what amounted to orchards, and as late at the 1830’s Henry Thoreau expressed surprise when he spotted one in the Massachusetts woods. (It may have been a survivor from the cold period before the Medieval Warm Period).

Now that conditions are warmer sugar maples have a rough time further south, as their sap starts rising several times right in the middle of winter, which causes problems, and can cause trees to sicken and die. You may hear this is a result of “Global Warming”, but actually it is due to the end of the Little Ice Age. Sugar maples require a cold winter. They grow all the way down to Georgia, but up in mountains that stay without thaws through January.

Believe it or not, I do babble about such things with little children, because they are full of questions and wonder, when I do something like throw away the ice on the top of the bucket. I suppose some of it goes in one ear and out the other, but I also know they experience tapping maples, boiling sap, and winding up with ambrosia.

The boiling is the most expencive part of the operation, and as farmers around here were generally poor they used to use wood from their own farms. Now the operations have become amazingly high-tech, with wonderful inventiveness involved. A few weekends, (including last weekend, and perhaps next weekend), are called “Maple Weekends” and farmers welcome people onto their farms to see their sugar shacks, (as they can sell a lot of maple syrup, maple sugar, maple-walnut ice-cream, and even maple furniture, to visitors).

I like to visit them to see their innovations. The plumbing gets more and more complex, and some farms have piping that run from the trees all the way to the boiling vat. The sap is heated on its way in, and the smoke and steam leaving the operation is only lukewarm. Efficiency is everything, and sone farmers are now using some sort of reverse osmosis I don’t even pretend to understand, before they start to boil the sap.

I study this stuff because, when my novel starts to make money, I want to build a toy sugar shack on this toy farm, to entertain the children with.  However for now I am embarassingly primative, compared to other farmers. I boil sap in a kitchen pit, on a fire, and my wife has to keep an eye on me to keep me from using her better pots.

I used to just boil the sap on a campfire. The syrup tended to have a smokey flavor, which was barely detectable when I used maple wood, and interesting when I used pine.

I’ve grown lazier with age, and now use the propane burner for an external turkey fryer. (You were likely wondering how I’d work the subject back to turkeys.)

I don’t bother much with syrup, anymore. The best stuff is the candy. You have to keep your attention on the amber liquid boiling in the pot. If you are smart you use a candy thermometer, and wait until the boiling syrup gets to around 235 degrees. (I’m not smart, and judge by how drops look when dropped into cold water.) Then you take it from the heat, and let it cool. When smart people see the temperatures down to around 175 (and I can touch the pan for a second but not two seconds) you start to stir the stuff. In essence you whisk it without a whisk. It goes from amber and clear to milky, as crystals form. Once it starts to look dry, rather than liquid, You spread it out onto a sheet of wax paper, about a half inch thick. (Or put it into molds the shape of maple leaves, if you must.) Cut it into squares, like fudge, before it is cool, because kids will want it before it is cool.

The amazing thing about this candy is how much better it tastes than stuff you get in stores. Not that the stuff from stores isn’t delicious, but like anything else maple sugar loses a little flavor, as time passes. (If you have some maple syrup that has been sitting in the back of your refrigerator since last year, and you compare it with maple syrup from this year, you will see what I mean.)

I ask you, which would you rather eat?  Broccoli you picked from your own garden just before dinner, or broccoli grown in California, picked a week ago, and refrigerated, and shipped at top speed to your table.  The answer is easy. Fresh picked stuff is so much better that even in the inner city you will see planters growing broccoli on rooftops.

It is very difficult to grow maple trees on planters on rooftops. However, in the exact same way, fresh maple candy is far better than stale stuff.  If possible, one should journey to the farms where they are making it.

To be honest, fresh maple candy is so delicious I find it difficult to share any of it with the children at my Childcare. This is especially true because once they taste it they want seconds and thirds and fourths, and don’t care if I get any at all. It is only because I am spiritual I allow them even a crumb. Then they unionize and mug me and don’t leave me even a crumb.

It is for this reason I make certain to set aside a little for myself (and my wife) before we even start.