Almost spring

The slow return of spring in our region takes many forms. For me (and many others who live in more extreme climes, I suspect), the first hint of spring comes with the return of migratory birds.

All in one day last week, I saw (or heard) my first robins, redwing black birds, cranes, and geese of the season. What a lineup for one afternoon! There was no denying: despite the temperatures we have weathered this year, winter will eventually end. It was the first truly warm day we have had, and the sun was shining on melting snow.

And with those slowly warming days came our first taste of spring, as well. That taste, of course, is of maple sap.

We’ve tapped every year for as long as I can remember. First a neighbor’s silver maple in town, and eventually our own here on the farm. This year (like most), we tapped only the four maples in our yard, ignoring the many sugar maples that pepper our wooded hillsides. We could never wrap our head around the logistics of tapping in the woods, then lugging tanks or pails of sap across the rushing creek or down the steep hillsides. Honestly, we don’t need another big hobby or business venture.

Simplicity for the win.

We normally are able to manage to boil enough syrup for our family for the year, though not always. If we’re lucky and the weather is right, we nail it, tapping just these four trees, a total of ten pails. Last year we put by 4 gallons or so, this season may be less generous and more brief, if the weather forecast is any indicator.

That’s part of the magic. You never really know how long the season will be. A week? Six? And whatever you manage to boil down is a gift. We opened our very last jar of last year’s syrup three weeks ago, and we still have 1/4 cup or so left in the fridge. It’s perfect timing.

After tapping, we headed across a 100+ yard-long expanse of ice (affectionately referred to as “our own private glacier”) and down to the creek. Truly, shuffling here across the ice and the snow, it still felt like winter and I was wishing I had donned a few extra layers, but it was sunny and cheerful and continuing to promise spring.

There we wiled away the afternoon doing nothing at all, and returned to the house, to the yard, to the “plink, plink, plink” of the maple taps. We filled our enamel mugs with fresh, cold sap to bring inside, then tucked into a big pot of warming, homegrown beef stew.

This day. It was pretty close to perfection in my book. Welcome back, spring. We’ve missed you so.

Want to tap your own trees? I’ve shared a tutorial here as well as a more involved version in Taproot: HEARTH. Get your tap on!

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