My daughter is a three year veteran of sugaring. She’s four years old now and knows her role well. She squirms as I strap on her snowshoes and with a squeal of excitement she races to the sugar maple closest to our house.
She carefully lifts the lid of the sap bucket and peers inside. “Mummy! The tree gave us LOTS of sap!” She jumps up and down with delight, sending the lid crashing back down and spilling a bit of precious sap. She pretends not to notice. I say nothing.
She watches, holding her breath, as I empty the bucket into my portable pail. “Don’t spill it, Mummy! Be careful!”
I return the sap bucket to the hook beneath the spile. After a moment there is a steady ping of droplets crashing to the bottom of the empty tin bucket. She grins. “It’s giving us more! It’s so good at sharing! Thank you, tree!” She throws her arms around the aged maple and gives it a hug.
We move on to the next tree and her peeking and hugging ritual is repeated, with no detectable drop in enthusiasm just yet. When my pails become full she will begin to grow more interested in the lichens that grow on the bark of the trees and the squirrel tracks that crisscross the snow, but still follow cheerfully along as I move from tree to tree.
Once home again, she insists on a cup filled with cool, fresh sap to drink. “Mmm! Dee-licious!” my picky eater exclaims as she smacks her lips with a flourish that makes me wonder where she learned it from.
My daughter studies me with a furrowed brow as I filter the sap and ready it for boiling; the mysterious work of grown-ups.
She knows her work is done until we begin again tomorrow, but if she’s lucky a batch will finish up soon and she’ll have a gooey spoon to lick and mason jars of golden maple syrup to stack up in the pantry. There might even be a tiny bit left in the bottom of the pan to pour on the snow for a cold, sticky treat. Her dark eyes will supervise every detail of this process in silence, hovering like a predator over her sweet prey. For now, she attempts to be content with her cup of fresh sap.
“Maybe we should make pancakes,” she suggests.
Story and pictures by Jennifer Shelby. http://jennifershelby.ca/