For the past 5 years, with the exception of 2012, tapping the beautiful backyard Sugar Maple has been an annual ritual. This is the easy part. The long days tending an open fire as syrup is produced pioneer style would be the more onerous of duties. However, it truly is enjoyable for one who literally likes to play with fire, has gardens to plan and piles of books awaiting perusal.
This season, however, the Sugar Maple has been slow to produce. Certainly the weather has not been very cooperative, rarely getting above freezing during the day. And on those rare days when 32F has been surpassed, it’s been cloudy, rainy and windy (the Acer saccharum are far more generous on sunny, 40F+ days).
But as I went out to check the buckets this morning, it occurred to me that I might have slighted that wonderfully productive Maple this year. You see, in anticipation of her usual generosity, it is common for me to conduct a small ritual of sorts, giving thanks to the tree before and after drilling the spile holes. But at the time of drilling this year, I was distracted by a “student” who had decided to begin his own annual tradition of tapping Maples and came by to watch the process in action. And so the job was done without the usual thanksgiving.
Many will think me a madwoman, but I do believe plants communicate with us. Certainly we see the results of overuse, over-watering, inattention, etc. through physical signs. But it’s been my experience that this communication can go much deeper. On The Acre there is an American Elm planted in honor of a dear friend and mentor who suffered a serious heart attack just under 6 years ago. The nature of the occasion demanded a small ceremony and ritual as part of the planting. Sadly, this friend passed on the next day and the tree is now a memorial to him. It was 6 feet tall back then and each day since, I have greeted “Herb” either directly outside with a hand on the trunk or at least from the window when time is limited. In the short spell that has elapsed since its feet took hold in the soil, this beautiful Elm has grown to nearly 25 feet tall with the branches reaching full and wide. Our Herb was never understated and it would appear his spirit inspires this Elm.
Another tree on The Acre communicated quite distinctly to me but on completely different terms. This lovely Apple Tree of an unknown variety produced small but quite tasty apples for many years, which happily were used in jellies, crisps and pies. Each pluck of a pome was accompanied by a word of thanks. However, this tree’s location was quite near the vegetable garden and, from time to time, needed trimming so to prevent it from shading the garden too much (pruning fruit trees is also essential for good production). Although I always went to the chore with a litany of apology, I often got the sense the tree was unforgiving since it often poked, stabbed and conked me when passing under, around or while mowing. The telling event was the time this apple tree punctured my ear drum with the jab of a small branch while I was merely walking by. Tit for tat, I suspect. Oddly, the tree came down in a wind storm a year later and I am now without its wonderful gifts.
These and other examples are enough for me to believe that we must be grateful for what these producers provide and thanks cannot be given to just some unseen power in the nether. And so this morning while checking on the sap run amidst the lilt of Tufted Titmouse song, I remembered my discourtesy to Mother Maple, offering a sincere apology and words of gratitude, followed by two arms reaching as far around her girth as possible. Perhaps on the next sap run check the buckets will be full.