Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Maple Syrup Flow

"A sap run is the sweet good-bye of winter. It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and the frosts."-John Burroughs, Signs and Seasons, 1886

Temperatures have been below freezing at night and above freezing in the day so we figured the sap was flowing in the trees and sure enough when we round the hill towards our Amish neighbors home we could see the steam coming out of the Sugar House, a sure sign that the flow is on! It takes about 20 gallons of sap to boil down into 3 pints of syrup thus all the steam.$40.00 a gallon is what we paid to take some golden elixir from the trees home for our dining pleasure.

The evaporator at work.

Buckets collecting from the tapped maple trees.

The Sugar Shack

The sap run is a ritual that happens throughout these hills, on the rim of every spring. We are very lucky to live in forested Ohio. There are many unique benefits that come along with the views. One is the fact that we can tap sugar water from the native, maple trees that grow naturally around us.

There is only one region on the entire earth that meets the required conditions to contribute maple syrup to the world. The upper north- eastern States and south- eastern Canada is the range of maple, syrup country. Starting first in the southern most region of the territory and swiftly flowing up towards the north, a band of Sap Runs swell across this land, every year. It is only here that the climatic conditions can be just right to inspire the amber liquid from within these trees to succumb to, what is called, a good Sap Run.

A good Sap Run happens when the daytime temperatures reach 35-45 degrees in the afternoon but drift back down to freezing again, by night. When this happens for several days in a row, sap is flowing in the maple tree but it does not go into making flowers. The longer the weather holds this freeze/warm pattern, the longer a Sap Run can be.

It is right at the brink where winter meets spring head on, and holds it there, that the maple run happens. When the temperatures rise too high in the day and/or no longer dwindle down to a freeze at night, the trees then receive the signal to bloom, and they burst into flower, causing the Sap Run to be over. Thus, how long or how short The Sap Run is, depends on how long winter opposes spring. No matter what, come March, the odds are on the side of sweet spring, she wins in the end.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Valentine for You!

I love the word valentine. Perhaps I am a hopeless romantic, but isn’t it a lovely word, valentine? I always look forward to Valentine’s Day, taking delight in all of the red that comes with the valentines. Red flowers, red hearts and red ribbons, I think we need red this time of year when it can be so dark and grey outside. Doesn’t red look beautiful against a background of white, like a cardinal on snow! I relish the lace, the chocolates and the candy hearts, with messages like, “love you”, “be mine” and “your cool,” that come falling out of the children’s cards on Valentine’s day.

One of my favorite memories of childhood is being in elementary school the week before this special day and having the teacher announce that we are going to create valentine boxes. How magical it seemed to me to take a plain shoebox, dab it with Elmer’s glue, cover it with white lace doilies and red crepe paper and turn it into a treasure trove from which to receive valentine greetings. The only sad part was the poor, shy, little girl who was afraid that she wouldn’t get any valentine cards in her box. I slipped extra’s in when I placed my valentine for her in her box and I left them unsigned. Valentine’s day would be sad indeed if you felt unloved.

I guess that is why I have heard some people say that they don’t care about Valentine’s Day when they lack having a significant other to celebrate it with. Well, there is more than one kind of valentine! I looked the word up in my Merriam -Webster online dictionary and the definition is, 1 : a sweetheart chosen or complimented on Valentine's Day. “2 a : a gift, greeting or greeting card sent or given on Valentine's Day; : b something (as a movie or piece of writing) expressing uncritical praise or affection : a tribute.”

Perhaps we won’t all have a sweetheart this year on February the 14th but surely we can find someone to compliment, we can express uncritical praise and affection for a few people or pay tribute to those that we love on this day. I have a very old book that my Grandmother Ruby gave to me when I was a young mother. It is titled, Primary Plans and Projects and it has ideas for teaching children through the seasons.

The pages are yellowed and tattered and the binding is falling apart but I cannot bear to part with the remains of this book. My children and I would snuggle up on the couch together and read the quant old tales and admire the Victorian drawings on rainy days. There is a short poem on the February pages that through the years has became my favorite valentine rhyme. I think we could all be like the little girl in this old time poem.


No Valentines she bought, she had no pennies,
The little maid, one February day.
But oh, she did her best, from morn till evening.
To make both young and old feel glad and caused them to forget the grey.

Her smile was bright, just like the golden sunshine,
The world seemed, of a sudden, sweet and fine;
And every one she met, oh yes, I know it,
Just felt as if he’d had a valentine.

Alice Thorn.

Other people don’t like Valentine’s day because they see it as one more advertising gimmick, just the commercial world enticing people to spend money.

I have a Quaker friend, in her 70’s who proves that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to give out valentines. Early in February she sits down with scissors, tape, glue, old magazines and cards, red and white paper, ribbons and lace scraps that she finds around her house and she proceeds to create her own special valentines to send out to friends and family. The cards that she comes up with are unique, some sentimental, some funny. Each one is perfectly matched to the recipient.

She has so much fun doing it and just like the little girl in the poem she spreads cheer to everyone that she gifts with one. Well, most of the time. She was showing me the ones that she has saved, from years gone by, that she has given to her husband. This special lady is what you might call a feminist. She has through her life wrote for, worked for and stood up for women’s rights. I couldn’t help but laugh when I came across a certain valentine that she had given to her mate one year. In her elegant, slanting writing, beneath the hearts, she had written, “ Having you for a man is almost as good as having no man at all.”

Despite her overall dissatisfaction with the actions of men she decided to take one on and love him. Loving or hating Valentine’s day is also a choice. I choose to look past the ways that it can be abused and to just love it. Red hearts, red flowers and rosy wishes from me to you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Great Spirit = Jehovah

An enlightening exert from Caught Up Into Paradise, by Richard E. Eby, D. O. copyright 1970. It was one of many books with truth that I carried home from my Grandpas. This story was told to Richard by his Mother.

“When I was a little girl on the farm somewhere near a place called Dowagiac, I came home one day from the little red school house where a big bell hung on top. I felt very sick. Your Grandma put me to bed because I was hot and dizzy and could not walk a straight line. Daddy sat up with me during the night. That was the last I remembered, for quite a while. He told me later, that in the morning he saddled up Whoa-Nellie and rode her to Elkhard looking for a doctor who came the next day as fast as he could to find his way across the fields.

He told your Grandpa to go to the next farm where the carpenter would help him make a coffin my size because I was already mostly dead, and there was no hope. When he got back with the coffin tied to his saddle, he found the local Indian Medicine Man waiting with two warriors on their ponies. The Chief asked him, “Where is Pretty-girl-that-runs-out –to meet-us? Great spirit told me come see her.” They dismounted and went inside. Grandma was crying over my stiff, grey body on the little bed. “She’s gone!” Grandpa exclaimed.

The Chief tapped him on the shoulder. “No die! Great Spirit say, “Let medicine man use sacred medicine. He bring girl back. When Great Sun rise in morning, little girl want water. You give her some! I go now, get Indian medicine for Pretty-girl.” He bowed and backed out of the door.

My parents told me later that they were reluctant to let the Indian do anything to me when I was already stiff and apparently dead. But Grandpa realized he was the President’s Commissioner of these Indians, ( that means he was the special white man to whom they brought their troubles), and he must not offend them if he wanted their respect. Besides, he wanted them someday to love the God who made us people red or white! So he gave permission to the Indians to get their sacred medicine.

Just before sunset the Chief rode back into our front yard carrying a red pot full of black goo. ( Goo consisted of a mixture of swamp herbs, roots and barks boiled and mixed with blood of birds, frogs and snakes to make a black liniment for use by a Medicine Man only.) They told me that he rubbed it all over me, except my nose, and rode away.

When the sun came up Grandpa heard the Indian pony gallop into the front yard just when I cried out for water! ( He cried too.) The Chief had another potful of goo that he spread all over me again. He told my father this time: "Great Spirit talk to me on horse. Say girl want food when Great Sun go down tonight. He say feed her then!" And away he rode.

Mother swung off the bed. “More Mommy, more. Did you live?”
boys, you figure that out while I get some milk and cookies like we used to give our Indian friends every time they came to see me afterwards……

"Now, to go on with the story… Watch those crumbs, they’ll tickle! Well, that evening the little girl ate some food, and could hear the Chief tell her Daddy that the next day the Great Spirit would make her walk by sunset. And I did!

Boys, we have a word for things we can’t explain; it’s MIRACLE. The doctor called me a real miracle. Years later he explained that I had a kind of brain fever that the city doctors were calling ‘Infantile Paralysis” Other such children had died in hospitals even with pills and hot packs.

I learned that the Indians Great Spirit is the same God who can do miracles for us. When you learn to read you will find that the Great Spirit was first called ‘Jehovah,” and He made this earth and the lightning and the thunder that we watched tonight.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter Roots

There is plenty to keep a nature student entertained in winter. I have always been fascinated with the delicate beauty of last season’s dried seedpods and berries that hang unto limbs long into the New Year. June Carver Roberts, published by Ohio University Press, has written some of my favorite wildflower field guides for our Northeastern United States romp a-bouts.

My copy of, Born in The Spring, is worn around the corners as it has seen many a day in the field and a few in the rain. Roberts is an artist as well as a writer and her books are beautifully illustrated with detailed drawings and paintings of our local flora and fauna.

So understandably I was fascinated when at the mill in Athens I saw she has put together a winter botanical guide. Husband, who witnessed my enthusiasm, managed to secret one away to give to me on Christmas morn. Since then I have hoped for a long, quiet snowed in day to delve into its colorful pages.

Life keeps me busy and it seemed I couldn’t get to the book but the title lingered in the back of my mind. Why did Roberts call winter the season of promise? Wouldn’t spring when the songbirds begin to return and the earth is renewed with showers and all the green growing things start to unfurl be a more likely candidate for such a title?
Then, as we took our winter walks, I cherished once again the way Flowering Dogwood’s berries continue to deepen from bright to dusky in the depth of winter. I know from seasons past that somewhere along about February they must get to the just right, softened shade because it is then the Mockingbird decides to guard them from the cardinals and the jays, and keeps them all for himself. Perhaps they are Valentines to his mate?

Still, right now in January these scarlet droplets of fruit are swaying from the twig, right alongside the Dogwood’s tightly woven, heaven facing, buds of spring. Winter is the in-breath, the pause between what was and what will be, the fruit and the blossom waiting, side by side. Is this what Roberts refers to when naming winter the season of promise I wondered?

Thus prepared, I was ready to cherish the richness of the moment when at last I sat down in the chair by the fire with her book and opened the snow-white cover to find in the first few pages a preview by the author herself. To my delight she expounds on the title of her book and mentions many mysterious life-sustaining living and dying circumstances that occur under the cover of our Ohio winters every year, such as the soil being replenished by decomposing plant life, the fact that some plants bloom in winter and the way freezing temperatures allow some seeds to come to their full maturity.

What strikes me most of what she shares is this; “Some of the large wildflowers store food in rhizomes over two or more winters before having adequate reserves to produce a flowering stalk.” So much happens in the winter even though at first glance we assume we are looking out on a frozen and still landscape. Winter I now see is indeed a season of promise, but winter likes to keep this her secret.

Winter seasons of our souls are somewhat the same. Those times when we don’t feel productive and all our energy is zapped, from all outer appearances we may be doing nothing. Perhaps it would be comforting to remember it is ok to rest, it is good to rejuvenate and just being still can be productive. There are times when it is right to keep our reserves hidden safe underground. Winter season is a time of inner growth, a time for the seed to mature; when our spring comes we will know. Meanwhile, winter has a quiet beauty.