Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tapping Trees

Bright and sunny and off to the woods today; back into the tall trees dragging an unlikely assortment of tin, drills, plastic, curiosity, and hope.  Maple tapping.

There is sometime at once both grounded and romantic about tree tapping in my mind.  It calls up for me the notion of more seasonal work-filled days where when you need something you go outside to get it.  My sense of tree tapping lives somewhere among the feelings I get from canning tomatoes,  bringing soup to neighbors, what I remember of Little Women or Ann of Green Gables or one of those, and everyone I've ever met from the midwest.  Some set of partially formed ideas about people taking care of themselves, sticking to their knitting and just going about their business trying to do the right thing, and not making a big deal of it for pity's sake.

Of course, the idea that we might can make our own maple syrup from something that we get out of a tree is also, well, just on the face of it, totally magic.

So, anyway. In winter, if you're looking, the maples are easy to spot through the woods.  They are big, wide, sort of lumpy, heavy limbed, moss and fern covered trees.  The moss and ferns are bright, bright green in the sun.  The trees stretch their branches up, up; ending in a sort of multi-trunked and substantial thicket in the top.  I should have got a picture of that.  Not all smooth stem and then twigs and sticks like the smaller alders and seed cherries. They aren't so tall as the firs, but they are way more sprawling.  Liam was picking them out from the other trees on his own before any time at all.  Our maple is the Big Leaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum.

We've never tapped trees before.  I thought it was impossible out here in the NW until last year I read something about it, and then the vegan tapped a test tree and got some sap.  Which he drank down and proclaimed just a little sweet.  So I went my normal kind of crazy and ordered up a tree tapping set up consisting of taps, food-grade sap collection bags, and tin bag holders.  A book of instructions.   This year I am determined we are going to collect enough sap to boil down to syrup.  Just wait and see.  We're going to go about it like it's no big deal, and we'll just get it done because we like maple syrup around here and why shouldn't we make our own?  It's out there for the making, apparently. (Or, more precisely, let's hope.)

Of course, tree tapping is a really big deal if you're five, especially since the trees are at the vegan's house.  And the outing included typical vegan's house activities like an impromptu dance party on the shed roof.  And then a hunt all through the shed for just the right drill bits and set up.  And an up close encounter with polliwog eggs in the pond -- still so small and slimy.  And an inspection of the trailer full of scrap car parts (Don't ask.) along with a lesson on how the clutch works.  (A note, in the pictures Liam is wearing my coat and one of the vegan's hats; because, amazingly, I managed to leave the house without a coat or hat for him.)

After all that, the tree tapping was sort of an also-ran, so when the sap (which vegan and Liam have taken to calling "maple juice") didn't come rushing out, it was a little bit of a disappointment.  Vegan said, you know, it's like the chickens and the eggs and the garden and most everything else, it just takes a little time.  There was much peering into holds and trying to detect any hint of sap.  Checking and re-checking of the collector closest to the house.

And then it was time to go. The vegan had the tractor to pull into the shed and do something to.  We had grocery shopping, dinner making, and pea brush to rig up in the garden at home.  We'll get a report about the sap conditions tomorrow, hopefully.

I'm going to pretend it hasn't been over a month away from this space trying to get my camera working and find enough wits to organize a thought.  Let's just quietly pick up where we left off, shall we.

I leave you with a tree tapping series, which is way too many pictures, but, just because I happened to catch them all in a row.