I spent a good portion of today boiling maple sap. I have six buckets hanging on tapped trees along the ridge just north of our house, and yesterday’s warm temperatures set the sap flowing. This morning, I slogged up to the ridge through the rain and the gray, waning remains of February’s snow, two five gallon buckets in hand, and emptied the cold, clear sap into them, filling both of them nearly to the top. Sap weighs about the same as water, eight pounds to a gallon, so I was winded by the time I made it back to the house; winded and wet. The rain and wind had gotten worse. I set my two buckets in line next to two others on our back patio; sap I had gathered earlier in the week. About twenty gallons of sap all told, enough for about half a gallon of syrup.
As I set up my burner and dug the boiling pans out of the garage, my eyes kept going to the sap in the buckets. It looked clearer than water somehow, but by the end of the day it would be a deep amber. I thought of Violet, sleeping upstairs in the warm house, Linda watching over her. Pouring the sap into pans and lighting the burners underneath, it occurred to me that the motions I would go through today were not unlike those I would be going through with Violet over the coming years; starting out with something pure, something completely natural and unadulterated, I would attempt to use what I’ve learned to turn it into something both useful and valued. It would be darker than at the start, that would be unavoidable, but it would be sweeter, too – more complex.
I was pleased with myself for coming up with the metaphor, and I worked the idea around in my head for some time. But by mid-morning, I got involved in other things. I stayed away from the sap for too long, and the sap burned down into a flaming mess, black and sticky bubbles roiling in the ruined pan.
For Violet’s sake, I pray nothing happens to Linda.