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March 7, 2021

I’ll Never be as Generous a Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Brehm @ 12:45 am

Gray dusk settles over the land; the hills and pasture are still, though a strong March wind plays with even the strongest branches. The type of wind that stirs your innards, stoking some nearly forgotten coal in your human guts to white hot.

Sugar maple sap boils furiously over a fire, roaring in the wind, of pithy elm pocked by saprobic insect larvae. Steam pours off the metal pan in unpredictable white waves, like a time lapse of cloud formation over the ocean. The sap turns amber as the water vapor flies out of the pan, further condensing the tree sugars.

The fire is a storm reaching out, barely contained by the immobile brick fire ring. It roars up and through the sap pan in red, orange, and blue flame; a swirling tornado of steam ensues. Bearing witness to this scene is to become enveloped in the power of fire and water both writhing, now, in darkness. It is at once hypnotic and stirring, easy to sink beyond the physics of evaporation and combustion into deeper thought.

I read the archaeological account of the County Home Site (Patton and Curran, 2016), which is a mere few miles from where I sit, as the crows fly, along Sunday Creek. People lived there thousands of years ago. The charcoal they left behind was mostly from oaks and hickories. It appears they ate a good deal of black walnuts and hickory nuts in addition to the animals they hunted. Did the people there boil sugar maple sap, too, perhaps in big clay pots or elk stomachs? I recall one of the Anishinaabe elders in Michigan explaining that maple sugar has always been an important food for children and elders

Though I try, I will never be as generous as a tree. As Anthony de Mello writes in his masterpiece, Awareness

Tomorrow, the sap cycle will continue. I will boil this batch of sap a bit longer, as it completes the journey to syrup. I will walk to our generous neighbor’s farm and empty the buckets again into one. The sun may be shining again, and the burning stars will be invisible above the blue sky. A red-shouldered hawk may cry out just above the tree line. A pair of meadowlarks may flash their yellow bellies as they fly over the pasture, already eyeing breeding territories. And, as I make my way to the tree line and the first buckets

Special thanks to Homecoming Farm in Amesville for the many insights and tips on sap and syrup.

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