This lenten reflection is reposted from 2017.
From Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments show his handiwork…The fear of the Lord is pure and endures forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.”
For me, Lent is also ‘Maple Syrup Season. Lent is a great time for reflection and for preparation for the greatest season the church calendar, Easter season. While finishing up the tapping of the maple trees and nearly having the boiling phase over, this is also a great time to appreciate this wondrous creation. The gift of maple syrup is a wonderful reminder of the many hidden treasures of God’s handiwork; with just a few maple trees and a bit of work, I am given this sweet and beautiful substance. I don’t know if maple syrup is sweeter than honey or not, but if King David grew up around maple trees instead of bees, I am confident that maple syrup would have ended up in at least one of the Psalms.
I have loved maple syrup ever since I had my first taste of the real stuff. Mom and Dad bought it for us some 50 years ago when they went to Vermont. I still remember the deep golden-amber color and the incredibly rich taste. It is hard to go back to Log Cabin Corn Syrup with artificial maple flavoring after that! I wish that I could share a bottle (or two) of my own syrup with Mom. She would love the taste and the color and the aroma. Nothing against pancakes and waffles, but she would do something creative and delicious and wonderful… like sweeten a hot cup of Irish Breakfast tea, pour it over ice cream, or in a bowl of filled with freshly fallen snow.
I tapped my trees about two weeks earlier than last year…a good thing with all the crazy weather this year, with temperatures swinging wildly from unseasonably warm to unusually cold within a few days. We had a 53 degree swing over a 36 hour stretch in February. I think this confuses the trees. In addition to tapping earlier, I also increased capacity by 40% over last year! To give you a sense for the scale of this vast maple syrup operation, this means I added two more buckets. Even with tapping earlier and adding two more buckets, through the bulk of the season I’ve collected about the same amount of sap as last year. But, I just had a very large, late harvest of sap as the season winds down.
I love collecting the sap. It provides an excuse to go tromping in the woods several weeks before I typically would. I think of my Grandpa B every time I pull my boots on to go collecting. He did not make his own syrup, but he tended a fantastic garden and had two of the largest and most productive apple trees in the world…or at least in my world. I miss that world. But, while I am pulling on my boots, I cherish the memory of watching Grandpa B pull on his boots to head out to do his work.
I missed not having any snow this year while gathering the sap. The snow adds even more beauty and greater contrast to that time of year. The colors of the trees are much more variable than may first be obvious, at least to me, with the steel gray of the beeches, the deep brown, almost black bark of a few trees and hints of green lichens against the brown of the maple bark. The snow highlights these colors even more…maybe next year.
While collecting, I get a much better sense of what the birds are up to this time of year. I saw several of the earliest bluebirds, the most beautiful color of blue with that flash of orange gold on their breast. And the cardinals seem to be even a brighter shade of red when I am out there among them this time of year. I also saw the first few crocuses emerging and one lone crocus that flowered several weeks ahead of the others. Any time I can see a flower before Beth does, I am onto something.
The boiling process went well. My nephew Will suggested using a ‘crab boil pot’ and propane tank to cut down on boiling in Beth’s kitchen…a great improvement. And, so far, I ‘ve had ‘only one’ over-boiling accident this year on Beth’s stove. It was a doozy though. Note: I characterize this as ‘only one’; Beth’s characterization might be ‘one too many.’
The smell of maple in the kitchen is wonderful as the sap gets closer to syrup, but even more amazing is the sweet aroma from just outside the kitchen on a cold day.
This whole process is a simple, gentle reminder to me of the beauty and wonder of nature. This wonderful substance is hidden in the trees at a time when it seems like not much is happening and with little effort, we are given a great, early gift from God’s creation.
The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day
Does his Creator’s power display;
And publishes to every land
The work of the almighty hand.
Soon as the evening shades prevail,
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings, so they roll
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice;
For ever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine.”
Joseph Addison, 1712 (after Psalm 19