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:

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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 —signs and omens—

Venus-Jupiter-Mars_Oct-24-25-26_big

There are signs and omens all over the place, if you care for such things. I used to care, but have lost interest over the years, largely because I could see little advantage in glimpsing the future. I never got a glimpse clear enough to tell me what stocks to invest in, I suppose. Rather I’d get a vague sense of whether I was in for tough times or easy times, and there was no way to avoid either. Lastly, when tough times did come, they were never as bad as worry made them out to be beforehand, and actually turned out to be the times I brag the most about surviving, when reminiscing. (When I remember the good times it is often with the wistful sense I blew it, in some manner.)

The one time signs are helpful is when you are very discouraged, and in need of an encouraging word. Our fellow man sometimes can be pathetic, when it comes to encouraging us. Even the people trying to be kind will  propose some ridiculous diet or regime of exercise or ask you to contort yourself into yoga poses, when all you really need is a kindly glance. In such situations helpful friends can be downright depressing, and it is then that some sign, some bluebird landing on a nearby branch and singing, can be like a rope to a drowning swimmer.

Of course, if I became dependent on such signs I’d never get going in the morning. I have enough trouble getting started as it is, and if I needed a good omen before I proceeded I’d likely never get out of bed.

There was actually a time when I was young that I did demand life made sense, before I’d proceed, and I wound up very nearly paralyzed. I was deeply involved in the study of psychology, and at the slightest sign my behavior wasn’t adult I’d stop everything and analyse my every twitch. It was a good way to avoid getting a real job, and also acquainted me with the wonders of the subconscious, however in the end I had to get a real job even if life didn’t make sense.

At one point, before I got a real job, I was studying my dreams from every angle I could think of, and had a wonderful revelation. When you study dreams you, in a sense, make every action and every object within the dream be a symbol, and thus a sign. For example, if there is a road in the dream, it may symbolize “being-walked-upon”, (and you might even burst into tears when you have the insight that you feel trodden upon). The problem is that, before you get the first dream figured out, you tend to get tired and go to sleep and have another one. Studying all the symbols can get to be exhausting, and there is definitely no time left to look for a real job.

I had managed to arrange my life, as a young poet, in a way that allowed me to study dreams for days on end. Now I cringe, thinking of all the wasted time, but some good did come out of all the study. For one thing, I don’t waste time so much. I also suppose I understand the subconscious to some degree. However the revelation I wish to describe came after I had an overdose of dream-study, and decided I needed some fresh air, and went for a walk.

Because I’d been spending so much time analyzing objects in dreams, I was in the habit, and found myself analyzing the real objects in the real world as if they were symbols in a dream. I wasn’t trying to do it. In fact I was trying to stop. Yet I couldn’t. There wasn’t a leaf that fell that didn’t have some symbolic meaning. Maybe I didn’t know what the meaning was, but the meaning was there, as loud as thunder. I had wanted life to make sense, but now there was too much meaning, in every twig, in every birdsong, in every face in every passing car. It was a glorious and wonderful revelation, but I felt over my head and wanted it to stop. When it wouldn’t I went and bought a six pack of beer and got ossified, not to get high but rather to come back to earth. Then, when I awoke the next morning with a headache, I wondered why I had run away from the revelation. It was largely gone, though enough lingered to reassure me that life does make sense.

Due to that one event, forty years ago, I don’t scoff at people who gaze at stars, seeking astrological sense, or at teas leaves, or at the lines in palms, or at the entrails of goats. God really is in everything, even in the most dark, deplorable, and dismal situations. That is how the poet Wilford Owen was able to write, from the hideous trenches during World War One, “I too have seen God in mud.”

While I don’t scoff at those who seek to read things, I don’t have the time to follow them. Knowing the future doesn’t matter as much as how you behave when it gets here. The only time I adjust my behavior due to someone seeing the future is when I hear a storm may come, in a weather forecast, (and even then the forecast is often wrong. Also, these days, it is often absurdly sensationalized).

Rather than attempting to figure the Creator out, and know what He is up to, I tend to rest assured He knows what He is doing, even if I don’t particularly like it. This seems to open my eyes to beauty I’d otherwise miss. I don’t particularly like cleaning up after a snowstorm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t lean on my shovel and admire the view.

In this manner I’m able to admire the recent eclipse of the full moon, and the current conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the morning sky, without getting all worked up and worried about  what it all means. I can watch the leaves change and fall without getting all worked up about the onset of winter, (though I don’t forget to stack the wood).

The glory of what I call “Sugar Autumn” is ending, as we move into the less brilliant but still  beautiful foliage of “Oak Autumn”. In parts of the woods without oaks, it is starting to be “Under-story Autumn,” where the tall maples have lost their leaves, but the young ones beneath are just starting to change.

Understory Autumn IMG_0813

It seems that the Creator set up the ecosystem around here in a way that gives the young trees a little time to enjoy the sun free from the shade of their elders. The sapling maples  pop their leaves out a week before the taller ones in the spring, and lose their leaves a week after the taller ones in the fall. I’m sure a scientist can explain the reasons for this happening, but it doesn’t take anything away from the fact it is a wonderful design, and does allow the young time to grow, or at least subsist, until the old decide enough is enough and politely remove themselves from the sky by becoming increasingly rotten and the home of woodpeckers, or perhaps becoming firewood.

That is the sort of thing I contemplate, as I gaze upon Creation, and it seems wiser to me to appreciate beauty in this manner than to become worried, and in a sense to get in a fight with Creation. Too many people spend their entire lives avoiding what may never happen, and isn’t all that bad when it does happen. The reasons people give for the lessening of their lives are many, but it still remain a lessening. Some of the best advice I ever got may be the crudest, “Get over it.” For there are many ways to look at the moon.

And then the moon went on, westward through trees
Now bare of leaves, with a glance back towards me
Inviting. How could I follow? What frees
My feet to walk where the moon walks? What plea
Would it hear? All I could do was stand and yearn.

Once in a dream I walked those pearled highways
But for fool’s reasons felt I should return:
My mundane friends frowned on what disobeys.

Now like a grounded dodo I stand sad
As all wear armor and only in dreams
Does one walk nude in public. This world’s mad
And burdened by leaden get-rich-quick schemes.

But the moon’s not burdened. Midst the mad glow
Of cities it beckons those in its shadow.

LOCAL VIEW –FIRST SNOWFALL–

I had plans to finish up some work on the clapboards at the end of my 250 year old house today, but awoke to temperatures of 23° (-5° Celsius) and frozen slush coating everything. I was pretty grouchy. October 18 is too darn early for snow. However the sun was brilliant on the horizon, and there wasn’t a breath of wind.First Snow 5 IMG_0760

It is hard to remain grouchy when it is so gorgeous out, but I tried my best. If I am to achieve my goal of becoming a cantankerous anachronism, it will require hard work and practice. So I put on my sourest expression and looked for things to gripe about.  I noticed my wife had left my granddaughter’s baby carriage had out, and it was all soggy with snow.   First Snow 2 IMG_0755Also the phlox flowers in the garden were frozen.First Snow 1 IMG_0753 Furthermore, the above photograph was suppose to be artistic, with the snowy car in the background, but it only reminded me I have to trim that yew. Also rake the leaves, and it’ll be harder with them wet.

Even as I was grouching to myself about that the leaves began falling. There wasn’t a breath of wind, but sometimes they are merely frozen to the twigs, so that the first beams of sun melts them free, even in a complete calm. In fact one leaf, as it falls, can jar others free, and a slowly developing slow motion avalanche of color crisply slides down the side of the tree. Formerly I’d sigh, and wax poetic, but as a practicing grouch I now grumble about how all the leaves are covering my firewood and keeping it from properly drying. The heap of firewood is to the right of the road, in this picture.First Snow 4 IMG_0756 You can see all those messy leaves all over the road. It’s enough to make you roll your eyes to heaven.First Snow 3 IMG_0758

Oh well. I figure Sunday’s suppose to be a day of rest, anyway. I’ll get back to practicing my grouchy expression first thing on Monday morning.

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.