Gift of the Trees

With the coming of spring, I become a tree hugger – even more so than all the rest of the year. The maple sap is running well, and I hug the trees with thanks for their gift.

As I gather the sap every few days, I do so with awe. These big old trees have grown untamed in the wilderness for more than a hundred years. Some are gnarled and twisted, several have two or more trunks growing from a single base. Many are tall and straight and still too young to tap. These will be the productive trees of the future. A half dozen or so are giants for this latitude – my arms cannot reach all the way around them. I truly love these big, old, wild sugar maple trees.

I am amazed at the miracle of their gift. I stop at each tree and gently lift the sap jug from the spile. As the cold. clear liquid flows into my buckets, I marvel at the absolute purity of this sweet water from the trees.

Just before the last of the sap gets poured into the collecting bucket, I stop – then drink the last few drops. Surprisingly, each tree has a different flavour. Some are definitely sweeter than others.

Placing the sap jug back over the spile, I stop for a few moments and put my arms around the tree. I look up into the branches, and through the branches to the bright blue sky above. Late in the day, the uppermost twigs gleam in the sunlight, as I walk in the cool shadows below.

Looking closely at some of the first trees we tapped, I could read the history of each tree’s scars. The holes from last spring are clearly seen. They are darkened, grey and dry. The bark around them has dried as well, and shows signs of pulling away from the hole.

Holes from two years ago have begun to heal. Just around the edges, I can see the new layer of bark, growing over like a scab.

Looking back, year after year, the “scab” grows over the holes until, perhaps six or seven years ago, the holes are fully healed. The scars are still there, clearly visible as a browner shade of grey than the older bark all around it.

The scar looks much like a cat’s eye as it heals the wound from our drill. At first the “pupil” is wide open, but as the years go by it narrows to a slit. Then, as even more years grow on to the tree, the slit disappears, and the new bark begins to darken.

I think can still find the places we put those first taps. Sometimes the only clue is the small, cracked circle of the oldest bark where the drill cut through. If this old, fur! rowed bark were to loosen and fall from the tree, it would be very hard indeed to find those early scars. Will I still be able to find them a decade from now?

It is quiet in the sugar bush. The kind of quiet even I rarely find at home. The trees stand so stately, with the white of snow at their feet, and the deep, deep blue of the sky at their tips.

I can hear the wind in the treetops, I can see the twigs wave slowly back and forth. I can feel the movement even at the bottom of the tree, as I reach my arms around it. The whish of the wind is a quiet sound, as is the tap, tap tapping of the pileated woodpecker, and the drip, drip, dripping of sap into the just emptied jugs.

Though we have been collecting and boiling sap from this bush for almost 20 seasons now, I still don’t take it for granted. I am always thankful for the gift of pure sweet sap from the trees. But even more so, I am ever amazed at the miracle of the maples.

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