Plink, plink is the sound of sap running in the metal buckets that hang from the maple trees in the wooded area of my property. This yearly ritual is always a test for me. Should I even bother? Is it even worth it? Forty gallons of sap for one gallon of maple syrup does not even remotely capture the amount of labor required to produce the alchemic wonder we drizzle on granola, pancakes and ice cream. And yet, since the divorce, I have used this first harvest of the season as a gauge for my continuing pursuit of this country life.
This is the job at hand. Tap the trees. During my married years we tapped 30 trees. To boil the sap down requires starting an outdoor fire, sometimes on a very windy day. Feed the fire all day. Bring the partially boiled sap inside to catch that moment when it is syrup. Bottle. This occurs over a 3-4 week period until, the trees heal up, the sap stops running, we have enough.
The first year after my divorce I gathered my tools: a hand drill, the spiles, a hammer, the buckets, my snowshoes. I trod through the woods on a bitter cold day in February. I drilled holes into the trees following, I thought, the instructions I found in a country living book. This was my husband's job, made easier with a power drill. He took the drill with him. I was steeped in the memories of the abundance the two us created together. There was the time we shared homebrews as we fed the fire, after the kids were in bed. Now it was just me and I have laundry to do. I overheard neighbors at the general store talking about the gallons of sap collected. My trees were not giving up much that year. In the end I think I boiled down a gallon. I had not tapped my trees correctly. They piddled sap when they should have dripped a least a gallon a day.
The following year, I tapped five trees. One Sunday, more out of obligation that actual desire, I once again trod through the woods. I could not get my hand drill to work correctly. It all felt like such an effort. Too much effort, for the meager end result I was expecting. I am a busy single mother working long hours. Just keeping track of the temperature; freezing nights, warm days over 32, seemed like an added detail my hectic life could not keep account of. Besides, I could buy maple syrup at the store if I really wanted it.
Something has shifted. Maybe it is the passage time, maybe it is a better understanding of my limits, maybe there is a map of how I want to live my life and a pathway to arrive there. This year I am feeling optimistic. Once again I have been to the woods with my hand drill. I have tapped 30 trees and while the sap is not running abundantly, that is more as a result of the weather, than my skill. On the day I tapped the sap was dripping liberally into my buckets. By the end of this week I will have enough sap to boil down to make a gallon. By the end of March, if my effort is sustained, I will have 2-3 gallons of syrup put by. Meanwhile, I am making plans to bring sheep back to my land. I have planted onion seeds in little cups, to be transplanted later in the spring. My apple orchard will have a long overdue pruning.
Divorce is one of those big disruptions of life that make you question many already settled answers. In my thirties I had this dream of living in the country, growing my own food, and simplifying life. I met a man who wanted all those things as well. We had a child. We were living our dream. Until we weren't. If divorce were a simple legal procedure, like, say, paying a parking ticket, perhaps there wouldn't be pages of major websites devoted to the actual process we need to go through to heal from it. A mark of our healing, of being present in the new life we have created, is perhaps to not avoid thinking about the past, but to acknowledge our journey from our past to our present and find it sweeter