Wasting Time

One thing you need in abundance when sugaring is patience. It takes a long, long time to boil off 39 gallons of water from the tree sap, leaving behind that one precious gallon of syrup. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Charlie’s fortuitous visit to our kitchen one morning, we’d still be down there, trying to process hundreds of gallons of sap in a large frying pan.

Charlie is an organic farmer who works on a nearby farm. He knows how to sugar. We struck a wonderful bargain ā€” Charlie’s advice and the use of a large 15 gallon “stove pan” in exchange for tapping a few of the trees in our wonderful sugarbush [a stand of maple trees]. But even with the magic pan and four burners on high, it takes a long time. Hours.

Oh, you can prepare the next batch of sap by doing some filtering. And you can sterilize bottles. But mostly you watch the steam rise and fill the kitchen, checking regularly to add small amounts of fresh sap as the evaporation process transforms the astonishingly clear sap to a heavier pale amber fluid.

For days on end, I’d rise around 5:00 to begin boiling down the day’s sap. If I stayed by the stove, I could process close to 40 gallons in a day, sometimes working late into the night. But watching sap boil is a lot like watching paint dry, and I’d be tempted away to other things to make better use of my time. I’d take off to hang a load of laundry, make some phone calls, prepare a sermon. Of course I’d get caught up in whatever I was doing, and down in the kitchen the sap was boiling away. I’d miss a chance to add fresh sap earlier in the process, making the day’s production smaller. If I’d really gotten sidetracked, I could have ruined a whole batch, which thankfully never happened.

We so easily lose our patience with a job that seems to be inefficient. Our cultural message is to do more: work more, make more money, buy more stuff. The average work week is now over 60 hours, because we can work from the minute we get out of bed until we collapse at night. We have to arrange play dates for our children because they’re so busy. Wasting time is abhorrent to us, and immediate gratification is our idol.

Living this way is costly, however ā€” to ourselves, to each other and to the Earth

The days I stayed in the kitchen were the best days. Not just for making syrup, but for my soul. My whole being slowed down; I paid closer attention to the changing sky and noticed the possum outside the kitchen door. I heard the birdsong change with the coming of spring. I thought a lot about what it means to be an expression of the Earth, and how deeply connected we are to everything around us. I got to know every nuance of that sap, and soon abandoned the thermometer for my own instincts for finishing the syrup (which, by the way, became quite reliable).

I’ve heard praying called “wasting time with God”. I like that. Whenever I’ve wasted time according to our cultural standard, I’ve ended up happier and healthier. We need the practice of patience in our lives if we are going to survive as a species.

So start a revolution today: waste a little time.


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