The Case tractor spun its tires in the thick spring mud, and then jolted forward with an admirable tenacity.Â We werenâ€™t stuck, yet, but the way my oldest brother was driving it seemed likely to happen at any moment.Â He was going too fast for the terrain, yet it was his teenage recklessness that made our errand fun.Â Hitched behind the tractor, my next-oldest brother and I sat uncomfortably in the old wooden wagon. We jostled and flopped with each rock or rut encountered, and urged him to go faster if he could.
Mom had sent the three of us to retrieve the dayâ€™s sap from old maple trees on the far edge of our farmland property. When the trees were generous it was all she could do to keep ahead of the output as she boiled it down for thick sweet syrup.
Arriving at the grouping of trees without broken bones or tractor axles, we began the process of dumping the brimming buckets into empty milk cans.Â I always smiled because the buckets looked like feminine â€œtree earringsâ€ as they hung on nails below a spout.
It takes a combination of warmish spring days and cool nights to get and keep the sap running, and the season is as unpredictable as Minnesota weather. Today the sap production recipe remains the same, but most sap collectors have vastly changed how the sap is collected. No more open buckets catching drips, bugs, and debris! Now things have become quite sophisticated, and in some cases, computerized.
In recent years my husband has taken an interest in collecting maple sap and making his own syrup.Â He learned how to tap trees properly and process the sap at our local state park.Â Once his awareness was in place, he discovered a couple of our neighbors tapped trees on their property, and he offered to help out.Â Last year our spring was so warm that the trees seemingly went right from dormant to leafing out, and as a result no sap was offered or collected.
This past week my husband has collected upwards of sixty gallons of sap, with more coming.Â Heâ€™s been boiling down the bounty, and last night offered me a taste of the hot-off-the-stove maple syrup drizzled down a scoop of vanilla ice cream.Â It was, in a word, heaven.
Sure, real syrup is available in stores or through syrup producers. Plunk down your money and you have instant access to something quite special.Â But that is no substitute for taking the raw material from the source and creating liquid love and nourishment with your own hands. Â That sense of wonder you simply cannot buy.
I miss the old tractor forays, but one taste of fresh maple syrup brings back those memories in the sweetest way.