Grandfather Maple

This was our first year at the transformation of maple tree sap into maple syrup — our year of experimentation — to find out if we could do it and if we wanted to do it seriously in the future. We didn’t keep any records, though … counting gallons collected or quarts produced, which trees gave what when and so forth. We collected and boiled, ate and gave away as we worked, so who knows?

“Sugaring”, as this process is called, is more than the production of a delicious treat, though it is certainly that. As the brief sugaring season moved along, I realized that I was experiencing a meditation in action.

There are basics: forty gallons of tree sap produce about a gallon of syrup, for example. And as sap approaches 219 degrees, one learns to be extremely careful. Then there’s timing that fragile moment where sap becomes syrup but not candy. All of that is important, yes, but it’s what I learned from the Earth that turned these few intense weeks in a mystical direction.

Our first attempts at tapping were on a lovely old grandfather maple just down the hill from our house. We weren’t sure exactly how to do this; the minute Sr. Helena Marie drilled into the sapwood, the tree gave of its bounty. She ran up the hill and into the kitchen, shouting “It’s running! It’s running!!!!” Off we ran, spiles and containers in hand, to begin our sugaring education.

I was amazed, several days later, when we realized that in our rush the drill setting had slipped from forward to backward, making the subsequent holes really hard to make. Each hole is a small wound in the tree — one more opening in the bark that allows the sap to slip down the trunk and back into the ground. Drilling in reverse meant we were using only our strength to make those holes, not the natural power of the drill. Grandfather maple seemed to understand our enthusiasm and good intentions and did not close off the flow of precious sap, even as we burned into the bark around the holes.

It seemed to me that we had “wounded” the tree more than was necessary, adding heat to the cutting. Yet the natural abundance of Mother Earth showed itself once again through this old tree’s generous sap flow.

That beautiful tree has taught us a lot: that we can make mistakes, sometimes hurtful ones, and be forgiven. That the nature of our planetary home is to be generous, to provide in profusion beyond imagination. That nothing is wasted, not even the sap that falls to the ground. That trees and rocks and bodies of water have a deep interiority — personality of their own.

Or, perhaps it is we who have a “treeality” of our own?


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