The sap run came late this year. We are down to a single mason jar of maple syrup in the pantry. I’ve had to hide it from my partner who uses it to sweeten his coffee, else wise the girls won’t have any for french toast and pancake treats.
This winter started early and this late spring arrives with a sense of relief. The sap is flowing heavy now, the sound of drops plinking into the sap buckets merrily as I empty the day’s bounty.
It is clumsy in this first week. The snow is still deep as I trudge into the forest in my snowshoes, hauling a sled with a drill, hammer, spigots, and buckets. My snowshoe comes loose and I sink to my hip, the buckets crashing together in the sled like a laugh track to my escapades.
I dig out the tree and drill into its sunniest side. Bits of sawdust collect at the base before I am finished. It makes me smile when a few drips appear at the edge of the spigot as I tap it into the tree. If not, it doesn’t matter. They will come.
The next day I trudge back out. It should be easier in the trail I broke the day before, but the sun’s been high and has softened the snow. Saplings bent beneath the weight of snow pop up to trip me. The bright yellow buckets I use to transport the sap swing on their handles, landing upright while I faceplant into the soft snow, quietly cursing my snowshoes. It would not be easier without them, I know, but I am clumsy when I wear them.
The cheery yellow buckets grow heavy as I tip the galvanized buckets that hang from the spigots inside them. This year the snow fleas are heavy, small harmless bugs which hop and gather in the hollows of my footprints. They seem to particularly enjoy the hole I made when I stepped out of my snowshoe and sank. One sap bucket is filled with them. I tip it through a filter of fabric mesh and shake the snow fleas off on the snow.
There are easier ways of doing this. I could set up hoses to run into a single cauldron, but for all my clumsiness it’s good to be outside stumbling into spring with a warm sun on my skin.
Days are filled with boiling, life becoming scented with sweet sugar, cobwebs I never knew were there laden with fairy baubles and beauty. I dip a mug into the hot sap and sip it like tea: hot, sweet, and maple flavored. A spring treat for me while I pour syrup on the snow for the girls to roll up on a Popsicle stick and eat as chewy candy.
Someday I might venture into maple butter or maple wine, but while the girls are small it’s proven best to keep things simple: watch the boil with a book or a pen in my hand while they play their games and we stretch our bodies after the long cold wait of winter.