Sugaring: A Memoir with Instructions
The Circle of the Trees
April first. April Fool’s Day. It is more than three weeks since we set the test taps in four maples, and we now have three batches of syrup, eight pints, one gallon, from forty gallons of sap. Ten gallons of raw sap wait in holding pails out by the akik. Around noon, Bill goes out and starts the fire, and a little later I go out and pick sap. Yesterday the spiles were almost running rather than dripping. This morning it was already forty degrees when I got up at seven, and I wonder if the sap ran all night and will keep running today as the temperature rises, or if the pressure is off and the trees will keep their treasure to themselves.
Yesterday it got up to fifty degrees. We worked outside in sweatshirts, gloveless and hatless. We could actually hear the snow melting around us. It warms from the ground as well as from the sun, and the old snow beneath the newer top crust gives in first and creates chambers under the heaps of snow. The upward melting diminishes the infrastructure which finally gives way, and since I was close by, and there was no wind, and because I was listening, when the ceiling fell I could hear the snow crystals crash in upon each other.
It is quiet today as well. Crows call. Robins continue their eternal effort at a meaningful tune. Bluebirds come and go from the bluebird house, checking out the facilities. The sky is clear except for thin skiffs of white clouds, and the dissipating chalk line of one jet contrail.
I walk slowly between the trees, pulling my cart, the pails jangling pleasantly against each other. In most of the grove there are only smatterings of snow and even the puddled remains of larger drifts are mostly sunk into the earth. Where there is some kind of shade, a fallen branch, a handful of leaves, there is also ice. I walk carefully, reading with my feet the lumpy Braille of the ground.
Otherwise I do not think while I work. I move among the trees the way the animals do, purposeful and without guile. It is different from merely walking in the woods, and different from a morning walk on our country road, where the smell of the air and the subtle sounds of place feed thought.
Here in the sugarbush I am not a philosopher, not a voyeur, not a wanderer. In some ways I am not even human. I am one of the animals that wakes when the eagle returns and joins the trees in preparation for the next season. My impatience melted with the snow, and I am no longer in a hurry. I graze from tree to tree, feeding on odor of leaves in mulch, on the conversation of birds, on the randy play of squirrels.
I am without hope. I am without dismay. I am without prayer. I am without awe. I have no mercy. No compassion. There is no anger in my heart. As the trees take water from the earth, I take water from the trees. It sustains me, and I am comforted.
It is why I draw water from the well of anininaatig, the tree of inini, the maple.