It is the last day of February, and warm enough so that even with snow flurries in the air and more on the ground, it seemed like the right moment to tap the backyard maple tree. Temperatures in the mid to high thirties again today and dipping below freezing tonight meant the sap is running, and though it is about a week before I usually get out the spiles and clean the buckets for another year of Abbott's Sapworks, the signs were right so the buckets are up.
I drilled my 1/2 inch, gently inclined upward holes, careful both to maintain at least 6" from previous borings and to take advantage of the prime spots on the south face of the tree beneath one of the lower limbs where it flows fast and free. I though of Elias' early vovalization - "Bucket Drip Drip Drip" - those years ago when he was barely tall enough to peer out the back window. I thought of the other hopeful acts of this time of year, like ordering seeds for the garden and thinking about how the Sox are shaping up at Spring Training. I shook off my heavy load and made the annual pilgrimage to the tree. Yggdrasil was an ash but mine is a maple and so I return to the tree of life.
I love the heady smell of maple steam, the low roil of the amber liquor in the pan that mingles with woodsmoke in the sugar house if you have an operation larger than my two tap outfit which only requires the stove top and patience to render down to syrup. A good year will provide us with close to a gallon of syrup from this single tree, while an off year requires supplementation if our pancakes and waffles are to benefit in the last months of winter before it is sugaring time.
Maple syrup and woodsmoke and mud beneath the wheels. Wet snow and sapcicles in the morning. The promise of Spring beneath the snow and ice. These are things I gladly embrace in the ritual of collecting sap and sugaring off what the maple offers. These are the wellsprings of my own roots, and the thawing ground beneath my frozen limbs. This is what keeps me in the present, looking forward, turning toward the sun after the long dark behind us.