Tapping the Source

By Marcy Barthelette

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 CEB

Buds are swelling, birds are singing, and tiny sprouts are nosing upward. The promise of spring fills the senses. All creatures are aware and on the move. A few weeks ago, the sugar maple trees of Missouri, yes, we have them, were waking to their hope for spring. When our temperature ranges below freezing at night and above freezing by day, Missourians find their optimal opportunity for tapping the maples for their sap and turning the resulting liquid into a tempting delicacy, maple syrup. My husband can share tales of his experience tapping trees and making syrup in north Missouri some years ago. Let’s just say, they were successful in the end, but they did require a little help from a professional who had all the right equipment.

It’s a little late for us to expect our maples to produce but in New England, where the sugar maple is the royalty of their tree population, both for the syrup produced in spring and the dazzling colors that bring fall leaf peepers in droves, the time to tap is between late February and early April.

Maple syrup is a major export for our New England states and, while Vermont is most closely associated with its production, other states look forward to late winter as the birth of a new sugaring season. It’s a tradition that dates back to colonial settlement.

The greater the range between the daily low and high temperatures, the better the sap flows from the sugar maple. New Englanders like to see the overnight low still in the twenties and the daytime high reaching forty degrees. Excitement builds as supplies are gathered, the trees are selected and drilling begins in preparation for the taps. The exercise of sugar mapling is not for the faint-hearted  or the impatient. Many taps must be properly installed and they require regular monitoring. When buckets or other containers are filled, they must be emptied into larger storage containers and then the liquid must be cooked down before it spoils. Cooking is a lengthy process and this is where the patience comes in. Most of it is done outside over a wood fire, your kitchen is not the best place for this messy job. And you know the old story about the watched pot never boiling, well, this pot must be watched carefully. It’s actually a long shallow box harboring contents that must be kept at a specific level and specific temperature until reaching that exact moment on the road to becoming syrup. Then the liquid must be transferred to smaller, more manageable pots that can finish off the process more efficiently. And just to give you an idea regarding the size of this operation, most sources agree it will require an average of about thirty gallons of raw sap to make just one gallon of that fine maple syrup so many folks enjoy.

If the anticipation of all that sweetness has you wanting to try the process for yourself, start early for next year’s season. Check first with the Missouri Department of Conservation for all the rules here in Missouri and for helpful tips to get the job done correctly and with decent results. Collect all your materials and be ready to go in mid to late February, whenever old man winter starts loosing its grip. Make it a family affair but just remember, you must be a hearty soul to go out into the cold of late winter to tap trees, collect countless buckets of sap and cook down syrup over a wood fire, so if that isn’t your thing, go online and order that good old Vermont maple syrup mailed directly to your door and let someone else “enjoy” the process.

Our trees are an incredible gift that, if you pay close attention to their swelling buds, offer the first promises of spring. They provide continuous beauty and shade in summer and their jewel tones of autumn are breathtaking. Winter is their time of rest but all the while they lay in wait, they are preparing to begin the process all over again. When it seems nothing is happening, the trees have secrets going on beneath their bark that we can’t see. Aren’t we a lot like that as well? Don’t we tend to hide our talents and abilities under the guise of not being enough?

But we have a personal source we can tap for strength and comfort whenever we need. The only rules are that we try to live as He has instructed us to live and keep in touch with Him on a regular basis. He’ll provide the tools to get the job done if it’s a job that He is asking us to do.

So whether or not you choose to include tapping maple trees as part of your future, return daily to the only source of soul comfort and tap it generously.

Look to the Lord for his strength; seek his face always. I Chronicles 16:11

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