Monday, March 12, 2007
Early spring ritual
Last Friday was a beautiful day: sunny and warm, maybe in the low 40s, so I left work early to tap the trees. We've got a few good sized sugar maples in the yard, enough for five taps that, in a good year, produce enough sap to give us a gallon of real maple syrup. This is our fifth year of back-yard sugarin', and drilling that first hole and watching the sap start to drip down the trunk of the tree brings back some bittersweet memories.
Our first try was in March 2002. Back then, we lived up north, had just bought our first house. The house sat on a couple acres, maybe half of which was wooded with a mix of popples and maples and birches. Up there, hobby-level maple sugaring was common enough that you could buy the taps and stuff at the corner hardware store. That first year, spring came early, and I remember seeing little beads of sap on the very tip of every little twig on the big old maple out back. I also remember sitting on the back stoop, sipping a beer and watching the kettle boil as the sun set, and thinking I never wanted to live anywhere else.
But after that second year, we sold the house and moved to Chicago. We left the taps and the burner in the garage for the new owner. After a miserable year in Chicago, we moved to our current digs, where we restarted our early spring hobby. I think we missed last season for one reason or another, but it was good to fire up the kettle on Saturday and smell the familiar smell of boiling sap.
This year, there was still several inches of snow outside when I headed out with the drill, which made it tougher to get where I was going, but easier to avoid stepping in the dog turds out back. I'm a little weaker and a little tippier than the last time I did this, and I was ready for a rest when I finished. As I slouched in my big ugly recliner, where I seem to spend more and more time slouching and thinking, I thought about where I was and who I was the first time I drilled into a leafless maple tree.
I still miss living up north, but I think mostly I miss the person I was then, seven or eight years ago: active, fairly fit, and optimistic about my ability to control my own future. A couple weeks ago, I thought about heading out to the ski hill to see what would happen if I put on my skis and pointed them downhill. I used to ski a lot up north, but I haven't been out for a few years now. I just ran out of energy and stayed home, though. Gravity is much less of a friend than it used to be; I spend a lot more time fighting it and a lot less time enjoying it. But it still makes the sap drip down into the jugs in early March.