A Different Type of Shavelings

Each year in March, as the trees are stirring and beginning to dream of Spring, but before they fully awaken, we take to our woods and begin a different rhythm.  Jason takes the drill from tree to tree, examining the bark for signs that last year’s tap has healed, then he makes a hole in a healthy, accessible spot low down on the trunk.  The kids and I follow with tool belt pockets laden with spouts.  We check the ground for a telltale trail of shavelings from the drill, then we locate the hole (sometimes it’s already dripping with sap!) and “tap” in a spout with a bucket hanging on it.
A line of maple trees with sap buckets along the woodsroad at Sweet Rock Farm.
We enter the pace of the woods, the world of sleeping trees.  It’s a welcome change after a winter of plans and indoor work, to emerge into the plane of the immediacy and infinite patience of the land.  We are reminded that the trees don’t check the weather forecast; they simply respond to the weather as it occurs around them.  We are reminded that the animals dwelling in the trees have been putting up with winter for the past several months, too, tunneling, chewing, stamping, making trails and leaving scents and shelling nuts.  We are reminded that these trees have lived here for more than a hundred years, this March falling into the context of a hundred other late-winter-seasons they have known.  A day that the sap runs or a week that it doesn’t run is a blink to them, survivable, even normal.  The sap is their lifeblood; its abundance is more important and yet less of a concern to them than to us, who work to harvest it for six weeks each year.  Sometimes I think I make the trees smile indulgently and yawn, as I run out one more time to check whether the sap is running.
Maple sap drips from a spout into a bucket in the sugarwoods.
After living for twice or three times a human lifespan, potentially giving sap each spring for most of that time, a tree can be harvested and sawn into beautiful, enduring lumber.  Their great, slow, spreading generosity reminds us to slow down and enjoy the sweet season.

…and then we’ll get back to work in the shop and garden, while this year’s taphole shavelings decompose into the forest detritus.


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