There’s a lot of talk in our house these days about movement- up and down movement. We watch the weather charts like a hawk, examining highs and lows for the next week. We are trying to anticipate and predict what the sap in our maple trees will be doing in the very near future. This directly depends on how the temperate rises and falls every night and day. The two are in direct correlation with each other. At this time of year, early spring, there is major movement in the living trees outside our door.
Rising sap, or tree hydraulics, is really water and nutrients in the ground being sucked up, pulled by the tree like millions of tiny straws. The flow occurs because of tension, which results because the tree’s liquid content up top evaporated, which was powered by sunlight. The sap rising in a tree in the spring is similar to how a paper towel absorbs water and carries it upward- an osmosis moving water from cell to cell. Conditions must be perfect for it to occur- cold soil, cool nights and warm days. The cool nights promote the conversion of starch molecules to sugar, while warm, sunny days allow water to flow from the soil into the stem. If temps drop well below freezing at night, the water travels back down the tree to be stored safely in the ground. If temps warm up the next day, the sap rises and flows back up again. Sooner or later, though, when the nights stay warm for a long period of time, and the ground warms up, the sap run will be over. The containers hanging on the sides of the trees will get very little fluid in them and it is an unappetizing brown color. Then the maple syrup maker pulls the taps.
Monitoring the temperature and collecting sap and boiling it to make syrup has been a very welcome distraction as of late. While I am collecting, I don’t dwell on students being shot or our national parks being sold off or Russia messing with our election, or the seemingly dozens of other issues happening in our country right now that could keep you awake at night or at least create a permanent frown on your face, if not flowing tears. I focus on the sap and it feels good to be walking the damp wet woods, our playful goats at my side snacking on the fallen leaves, humping each other even though they are neutered boys and the urge is still resurrected from time to time. I hear the Canada geese fly overhead- they are moving too.
The flow is occurring very early this year, just as the Canada geese are moving through early and the snow geese at Middlecreek Wildlife Mangement Area have arrived very early too. My friend, Hop May, a commercial maple syrup producer in upstate PA, said to enjoy collecting sap and making syrup now. Sudden spring warming, which is happening more frequently as climate change takes hold, reduces sap yields. With climate change on the move, these parts of PA will not forever enjoy syrup production. Our soil will grow too warm for starch to sugar conversion.
I aim for the trees with my bucket, the ones who are giving, and head right to them to unload their stash. I disconnect the white milk jugs from their hooks on the trees and turn them upside down in the 5-gallon bucket that I carry with me to each tree. They chug, chug, chug and splash as they empty and then I move on to the next tree. I welcome this task to as I try to build up my arm strength for our next leg of our Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail adventure this summer (BIG movement!). We do a lot of bike pushing up the Divide and one needs upper body strength to do that without suffering.
Soon the sap flow will be over and I will spend my mornings back indoors listening to NPR and feeling sad. I recently heard a man talk about movement in our country right now that gives me hope. He said that Bush paved the wave for Obama and all the great change and progress his administration was able to make; just like something very good and positive will have to come after Trump. We’re getting set up for it. It is what kind of damage that can be done in the meantime that will not be able to be reversed, that gives me pause. Destruction to our lands. Broken families torn apart. Kids killed in schools. We want it to be over. I need to think of this time period in our country as a bow being drawn back. As the quote says,
An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So, when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great, so just focus and keep aiming.
One thing we can count on, there will always be movement, always be change. Our psyches will move up and down, and when the time feels very dark and cold, spring will return with renewed hope. Aim for the future, focus on the leaders and the politicians and the movers and shakers who can create positive change. Head for that next tree that holds promise.