From Tapping Trees…

28 Feb

It all started with an email …”help make maple syrup at MacLeish.” I was a little hesitant to say yes to this trip, mainly because I had no idea what tapping trees meant or understood just how amazing the making of maple syrup is. But then I remembered my childhood days, not when I went out to tap trees, but of when I read the Little House on the Prairie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a kid, from the urban center of Orange County, California, I never had these experiences. I climbed the fruit trees that my mother planted when she bought our house and ran up and down the block with the other kids. I didn’t have woods or creeks, and animals consisted of the bugs I tried to call pets.

But that email reminded me of when I read of prairie and sugar on ice; I wanted to experience that. I wanted to be able to make my own maple syrup as easily as it seemed in the book and I wanted to feel that sense of accomplishment. What I got was a hard lesson on how to get the most and best sap from the tree.

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Don handing out tools and buckets so we could get on with the tapping.

As soon as I stepped out of the van, I knew that this was not going to be just a walk in the woods. Don Reutener, a retired Smith psychology professor, was there to make sure we did it right. He explained how to use the different tools and where the best places to tap the trees were, but knowing all of this could not have helped me identify Sugar Maples or find an easy way to trek from tree to tree. Being a “city kid,” I never learned the difference between one tree and another, especially trees in February that have no leaves on them. In that sense, I failed, but walking on fresh snow was a little easier to overcome. When there’s a good four inches and you’re carrying buckets, drills, and hammers it can get a little complicated. But this was definitely where I started to pretend I was a settler in new woods. I stopped caring about getting snow in my boots or getting my hair stuck on twigs. I just went for the next tree and started tapping or passing tools to the person tapping. I tapped about 10 trees and then decided to check on my first tap. To my surprise there was already some sap in the bucket, which filled me with a sense of accomplishment.

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This is the first tree I tapped. We then proceeded to tap it three more time since it was a big tree.

This week I will be going back to the MacLeish Field Station to empty out buckets and take our sap to a neighbor’s sugar house where it will get boiled down into maple syrup. I am sure Laura will be there on my shoulder, cheering me on…

-Stefanie Cervantes, ’13

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