Early spring in the Kickapoo Valley is all about flow. We watch the melting snow from Wild Cat Mountain, waiting to see if the banks of the Kickapoo River will embrace the volume of water she collects. We feel our own energy grow, budding from the corners of our smiles. Spring plays with us, mud boots one day and snow boots the next. We check our thermometers daily, anticipating the fluctuating temperatures, triggering the sugar season. It is this tease, this dancing of temperatures, which brings forth the sap!
During the warm periods when temperatures rise above freezing, pressure develops in the tree. If the tree has been tapped, hydraulic pressure causes the sap to flow out of the tree so that it can be collected in buckets and boiled down into maple syrup. On the nights that temperatures fall below freezing, developing suction draws water into the tree through the roots, replenishing the tree sap, allowing it to flow again during the next warm day.
Here in our little valley, while the Kickapoo River slowly rose to the top of her banks, approximately 250 gallons of sap was spun into 7 gallons of precious maple gold. Our neighbors up the creek, Hoot and Lisa, listened carefully to stories told by seasoned sappers in our hollow. Hoot fondly remembered this ritual from childhood and sets up a sugar camp old school style. He welcomed friends and family into the sugar bush, intent on connecting our next generation with trees and table.
Sugar season brings rewarding but hard work. For days, our children carry heavy sap buckets to a central fire that is meticulously tended. Too much heat and the syrup will burn, not enough heat means you stay up until dawn or beyond to tend the fire. Finally, Leif tests the sap and declares it officially Maple Syrup. It is sealed into canning jars to sweeten pantry shelves.
The sap run is over for this year but the momentum continues. Our neighbors, who have weathered Kickapoo floods and respect the balance of ebb and flow; straighten their backs from this sweet hard work to pause. The warmth of spring in the valley builds energy, while kindness and respect rise and move freely. As they deliver jars of syrup to the neighbors and stories are shared, Hoot, Lisa and Leif are reminded how Kickapoo living flows.