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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Sweet Sign of Spring: Maple Syrup Starts Its Run

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Susan Carol Hauser on the spring harvest of sap from the maple trees in northern Minnesota where she lives.


CURWOOD: Even in the northern reaches of Minnesota, winter is finally threatening to come to an end. As commentator Susan Carol Hauser reports, one of the surest signs of spring is maple sugar time.

HAUSER: It is sugar time in northern Minnesota. Below freezing at night, above 40 during the day, the thermal pump handle that begins the flow of sap up from the tree's roots and into the trunk of the tree and even on up into the branches. And as long as the temperature cooperates, the sap will flow not only up but out if given the opportunity. My husband and I give 20 trees the chance to spill their gift into our buckets. A few days ago the temperature reached 50 for the third day in a row, and we went to the garage and Bill picked up the drill and 2 pails, and I put a handful of taps into my jacket pocket, tucked the hammer under one arm and gripped a pail in each hand. And we traipsed out to the sugar bush and drilled holes in the 2 maples closest to the house.

We wondered if we were too eager, too early. But even as I pulled the drill bit out of the hole a few tears of sap wept out of the wood. I pushed the tapered end of this vial into the hole and tapped it in with the hammer, and then held my palm under the tip and caught the clear drops as they sought ground. On my tongue they had no taste, but I know their secret.

Bill hung the bucket on the tap hook and we stood and listened. Ping, ping, ping, ping. The standard two drops to a heartbeat. By afternoon they had gathered into a gallon or more. The next day we tapped the rest of the trees, and today we make rounds, pouring the sap into holding pails and then into a massive black iron kettle. The kettle hangs above a fire that we adjust regularly to keep the sap at a boil, and slowly, slowly, today's 20-gallon harvest reduces to one half gallon of amber syrup. It takes all day and is like waiting for spring itself. We do not mind. In this cusp between seasons, between winter and spring, we rise in the morning to the clock of the sun and work all day to the calendar of the sap flow. As water pumped through maples reduces to syrup, so our work in the company of trees yields the sweetest gift of the sugar run.

CURWOOD: Susan Carol Hauser is author of Full Moon: Reflections on Turning Fifty, published by Papier Mache Press. She comes to us via Minnesota Public Radio's KMBJ in Bimidji.



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