February is maple season. Sap starts running in the maple trees when the frost/thaw cycle begins... freezing temperatures at night and warm during the day. We went to the woods last week to put in the taps on the maple trees.
We asked permission from the trees and forest and started tapping. As we were tapping, we were looking around at the forest talking about how we can help the maples grow better.
The area we tap was the old "sugar run" that Adam's ancestors tapped generations ago. So tapping them now year after year, we feel a connection to those ancestors, and those who came before. Native people from many cultures were the first to tap the maple trees and make syrup, so it's important to acknowledge that we wouldn't have delicious maple syrup, or know how to make it, without that indigenous knowledge. I love the instructive stories that I've read from a few different cultures. In one story from the Lenape , a woodpecker helps the maple tree by getting bugs out of it, and years later when the woodpecker is thirsty, the maple tells it to drink its sap. So the the people learned to tap the maple trees from the woodpecker. From this story, I love that the woodpecker gives something first, reminding us to have a reciprocal relationship with the trees, and that the people are watching what is happening in the nature and learning from the animals. In another story from the Abenake , the people were lazy and just lying under the trees drinking the syrup, so Creator poured water in the trees so they would have to work hard to make the syrup. This story tells about collecting the sap in birch bark baskets and boiling the syrup with hot rocks... so the process of how to make the syrup is passed down through the story. (You can find more links and stories here .)
Maple syrup is also important to our relationship as a couple. In our wedding ceremony, we incorporated honey and maple syrup to symbolize the sweetness in life that is freely given, and the sweetness that you have to work hard for. Both are important. (This was before we were tapping trees and making our own syrup!)
We don't collect sap in birch bark baskets, but it is quite a long process! It feels so good to be out in the woods, listening to the birds sing, seeing the animal tracks. In fact, seeing woodpecker holes in the trees is one of the many ways we identify which trees to tap.
So here's a sum up of our modernized process:
We drill a hole in the maple tree, and set a tap with a plastic tube. The sap drips into a plastic bag that collects the sap. When we come back days later, the bag is full, and we pour the sap from the bags into 5 gallon buckets.
Adam drives a tractor into the woods on old logging roads, that has big barrels. We carry the buckets to a tractor and pour the sap into the barrels. When the barrels are full, we drive the tractor to the road where our thousand gallon water tank sits, and train the barrels into the tank, when we then pull the filled tank home to the shed for cooking.
Cooking is happening now, so I'll have to report back on that at a later time. But it all goes well, we'll have delicious maple syrup on our morning waffles.