Monday, April 25, 2016

The Maple Kind......

My footwear has altered dramatically since the beginning of March.  Gone are the fashionable shoes worn in an office......replaced by a pair of black rubber boots....with built in handles for easy pull up!  For the past month, my "right some sexy" mud loafers have adorned my  tootsies as I have traipsed through the snowmucky woods, on my way to qualify as a "Sugar Maker."  Comfy and sweaty warm,  these practical galoshies may not be eye appealing to the discerning onlooker.

Perhaps I've had them on my feet for too long, because I have adjusted to seeing them as a funky addition to my eclectic clothes.  Or maybe its just the satisfying knowledge that inside these boots are a pair of pedicured feet with purple polished toes.  Whatever the reason, my puddle padders are now an integral part of my wardrobe.  Without them, I would have been sidelined from the annual making of the syrup.  The maple kind.  And that wasn't going to happen.

It started early this year......the gathering of the sap collecting accoutrements.....the drill, the spiles, silver metal pails, lids with long pins to attached to the spiles.....and the gathering of the folks to help set it up.  Some years, the snow is so high, you have to wear snowshoes.  Some years, you need a tractor to carry you into the woods where the sugar maples await.  This year, warm rubber boots did the trick. We were lucky. 

It took three outings to set up the 300+  sap person drilling the hole into a mature sugar maple tree, one person to hammer the spile into the tree to access the sap, one person to hang the bucket and another to slide the pin through the lid and spile to ensure that when the sap dripped into the bucket, it would be safe from the weather and nature's it has been done since sap collecting began.  Sometimes, the larger, older trees have two taps.  They can handle it.  They have much to provide.  Giving trees.........

Tap, tap, tap........when the sap runs, it taps out a drop with every heartbeat.  You can hear it ping against the metal.  Tap, tap, tap..... clear sweetness. 

I have learned a lot on my way to becoming a Sugar Maker.  The temperatures have to be just right.  Below freezing at night.  Above freezing during the day.  This is when the sap runs.  Too cold during the day, the heartbeat of the saps goes silent.  Nature has its own will. We adjust to it. We appreciate it's mystery and let it be the lead. It's the only way.  When the run is good, the collecting begins.  

Camp Otterdale's sugar bush is interspersed throughout the woods, in small groves.  It takes planning and energy to empty all of the buckets on a regular basis.  When the sap is running well, each bucket needs to be emptied daily.........we gather it in pails, transfer it into an enormous bin that holds 250 gallons at a time.  Once the bin is full, we take it to the Sugar Shack and pump it into the holding tank which is connected to the evaporator through hoses.  Once the tank is full, the evaporator.........a large open pan that is wood fed and fired, gets filled.  The fired is started underneath and the boiling begins.  
Did you know that in order to make 1 litre of syrup, you need 40 litres of sap??  That's a lot of collecting and boiling. 

There is a temperature it must reach before the syrup is drawn off the takes patience and constant feeding of the fire to reach and to maintain it........ but during this time of waiting and working, the sugar shack fills with sweet steam, the sparks fly out the chimney high into the night air as the people involved get into a routine that includes an anticipation akin to Christmas morning...... whiskey may add to this excitable expectation......

The first time I was responsible for feeding the fire, monitoring the boil (so it would not boil over), measuring the temperature on my own, I was busy, focused, and full of determination to get it right.  You let the temperature go up to far, the all the hard work turns to crystals.  If you draw off the syrup too early, it is too thin and undercooked.  It has to be just right............ Just right...........standing in my comfie rubber boots.....with the radio on.......

To mark the occasion, I introduced fresh strawberries to dip into the hot syrup....... as close to the Divine as you can get without a visit from God herself. 

This year's maple season stretched out and into April.  Not heard of in these parts.  For some reason, we were blessed with more sap than we could process!  By the time we turned the buckets over and laid them on the ground for later pick up, we had taken turns boiling for hours......but tucked inside those hours in the sugar shack were many good conversations, stories, along with the quiet contemplation that is always reviving during this time of year, ..... when the liminal space between winter and spring offers reflection.  Good ideas are stirred out of hibernation.

Life does not often offer you an opportunity to experience the beginning, the middle and the end result of a task.  Too often, we pass on our work to another without any closure or insight into how the task evolved....... we miss out on the accomplishment.  Life doesn't often provide a chance to be fully immersed in a task know the ones when time takes on new meaning, when the whole world could be erupting but you're focused on creating.  The Maple kind.  

On Saturday, we attended a Church event that included pancakes covered in the kindness of the sugar maple from Camp Otterdale.  It was delightful to see others enjoy the unique sweetness we had mined and minded as it transformed..... From the tree's core to the human pour......  

Once again, I have learned from nature and my teacher was the ultimate giving tree...... I'm a blessed Sugar Maker in her boots, who is open to learning more.....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Time on the Road.....

A blank page can be a daunting thing.  It's almost like it has fangs and a drooley growl on days when the words can't escape the fingertips.  A blank page stares back at you.....cursing any attempt you have at scribing something meaningful.  Then again......

...........there are days when its whiteness reflects welcoming bits of scripture to support the creative process.  A blank page is an invite to share, to express, to connect.  Today, I'm connecting.  Today, I am opening up the vessel within to allow my muse to take in the spring fresh air. Hibernation is over.  It's been far too long.

Whether it was writer's block, or just time to be silent in order to absorb the stories, not writing was painful.  It was like I had fired my therapist!  I lost touch with a group of bloggers and readers that I had grown with and had become friends with through this medium.  I tried my best to remain not freak out every time I made an attempt to publish something.  Patience walked with me most of the time, and encouraged me to accept the things I could not change........ Life needed to be felt, experienced, managed, and in the moment.  Life took up space.  In my head.  In my health.  In my living room. In my travels.  In my job. In others.  In myself.   

Interestingly, Spirit, the Holy kind, took a backseat alongside Ms. Muse.  Since the writing process and my Faith journey go hand in hand and always have, this is no real surprise.  When the writing dried up, my interest in spirituality spun away from the Sun.

It was benched.  Not on a pew.

 I feel like I'm ready again to generate new pieces.  You know what else is daunting?  Picking JUST one topic!  So, let's start at this moment in time and then in a later post, reflect on where life's journey took me.  Ready?

A couple of months ago, I made many changes in my life all in one drive along the Trans Canada highway.  I haven't stopped smiling since.  I took a year leave of absence from my job, to assume a multi-tasking role alongside my life partner. The stars finally aligned.

Surrounded by 300 acres of woods and fields, along the shoreline of a beautiful Ontario lake, we are learning to live and work together. It has been so easy its crazy!  Everyday, we fall in love with one another all over again and laugh at how life is circular. With a few bumps. Oh, and maybe one or two potholes.  You see, we were a couple in our teens and reunited in our 50's.  Big wide circle..... of love and learning, of careers and community involvement, of challenges and temporary turmoils, of embracing our roles as parents (forever) and as spouses in our previous marriages, of creating separate fulfilling lives surrounded by family and friends, and of star gazing wishes.

Though most of the present tasks I am tackling are new to me......making maple syrup, helping to design a website, marketing and recruitment, driving a little tractor, cutting wood......I feel like I've "come home."

Home is where you are loved.
Home is when time immerses you in something akin to the eternal.
Home picks you up gently and sets you down by the fireplace
Home is made of pine and light, with a hint of maple.
Home..........a place where all are welcome, all are welcome......

My writing voice may have been silent for too long.  My spirit, the Holy kind, may have taken a hiatus for a while..  But, I was working hard during my time on the road.  Living.  Breathing.  Learning from those lonely days where yearning sat in the pit of my stomach.  Stretching in discomfort. Seeking direction.  It was worth it....the struggle.  Because it brought me here, to a place that seemed to be waiting for me to find, with a man whose smile matches my own.