The First Harvest of the Year

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As soon as the snow begins to melt and the temperature breaks above 32 degrees during the day, it’s time to begin the maple syrup harvest. Which means in Minnesota, it’s tree tapping time.

I would liken tree tapping time to the first time your alarm goes off in the morning. There’s that day or two with a groggy yawn and a bit of denial (is this all starting up again?) because the sudden flow of sap racing up the trees is our sounding bell that winter hibernation is now over and farm life is about to ramp up to full speed.

Tree Tapping begins it all. Soon baby lambs, goats, and chicks will be born followed by the arrival of the feeder pigs. The snow will melt, uncovering our waiting garden, and seeds will sprout under grow lights in the kitchen. Fallen branches will need to be removed and fences repaired. The spring-and-summer-into-harvest train begins to slowly move out of the station, and sometimes a girl can feel a little overwhelmed by all that is to come. She might want to hit the snooze and hibernate a little longer.

But it’s time to wake up. And Tree Tapping serves as our soft start. We wade through the snow and visit our favorite trees. We know the big producers, the ones that will drip the most sap for us. And we talk about giving other trees a year off. We only harvest enough syrup for our family each year and to give as gifts. Small-scale fits us best and it means this process is filled with no added stress of livelihood or wages. Most of this syrup will end up on our kids’ oatmeal and in our morning coffee.

Each year the routine is pretty much the same. We drill a small hole into the tree and gently tap in the spile. We scramble to get the bucket positioned to catch the fast drips and then feel the same annual wide-awake joy. It’s all coming back to life. These trees will be green again! We may have felt that hope fade during the long winter, but watching the flow of sap dripping into the bucket is proof; warm roots are soaking up melted snow and life is returning to each branch.

There’s a mystery in it all, reminding me of our very creative and thoughtful God. Somehow the melting snow will defy gravity, moving up the trunk from roots to tree top. And in God’s goodness and great abundance, there’s enough sap both for the tree and for happy hobbyists like us, grateful to restock our sugar for the year. So while I may feel overwhelmed by the work ahead, I also carry an awareness that God is the one working the miracles and graciously inviting us to tap into his ways.

All of it, all of the work that is to come, brings with it a satisfying harvest that I suddenly remember in that first spoonful of hard-earned maple syrup.

Becca Groves

When we first began, we created our own evaporator with cinder blocks, buffet pans, and a make-shift chimney. We spent hours and hours watching that boiling sap, and it never serves to walk away. Our first year my husband was out evaporating when it began to sleet. He came in the house to warm up for a bit, but in that time the sap had reduced to syrup and the syrup reduced to char. Soon there was an inferno at the end of our driveway, representing hours of lost time. Ever since, you can’t get the man to leave his boiling sap for anything.

Since those first years we’ve converted an old garden shed into our sugar shack, giving us wind protection, shelter from the sleet, and an incredible steam facial all month long.

Eventually the sap is reduced enough to bring the thickened syrup into the kitchen for the very careful last step of finishing. If left too long the syrup can scorch, ruining the whole batch. Our whole house takes on the pleasing aroma of a candy shop and it’s on this first evening of finishing that I fully embrace spring and all the work that is to come. Because it will be this evening that my husband will come to me with a spoonful of pure maple syrup and together, we’ll taste our first well-earned, delicious harvest of the year.

In that one spoonful I remember the goodness of all that is ahead. The seedlings under the grow lights have to be watered each day, but soon enough I will be picking the tomatoes from these same plants for BLTs. The goats and sheep have to be watched carefully as kidding and lambing can quickly become stressful. But soon I will be milking that goat and making soap and cheese again. The pigs are demanding and require so much food, but…bacon. All of it, all of the work that is to come, brings with it a satisfying harvest that I suddenly remember in that first spoonful of hard-earned maple syrup.

So it is springtime. There is much work ahead but God is calling us to wake up, O sleeper, and Christ will shine, illuminating God’s miracles and abundance. For he is the one running the sap, growing the seeds, and bringing new life.


7 Comments

  1. Reagan Dregge

    @rdregge

    How I love to wake up in the spring with the trees. Our first year we boiled entirely indoors and peeled all the paint off our kitchen ceiling on accident – lesson learned! Thank you for reminding us to tap in to the gravity-defying sweetness of the Wellspring of grace.

  2. gllen

    Ooh! How this raises a huge portion of sennsucht in me! An agrarian life – what a blessing you have! I live in a chaos-filled urban setting, where peace and rest are a treasure so difficult to root out and find. I work in a windowless warehouse, sorting and sifting boxes, equipment, and various information/numbers. And trying to manage a world of interruptions.
    At break time, I look out to the barbed-wire enclosed industrial grounds, (desecrated as Wendell Berry would say), and see what I call “the stalwart maples.” A cluster of four impertinent black maple trees that stand as a testimony and a reminder to me that God made this world I live and work in. A tiny whisper to me that there really is a blue, blue beyond the barbed wire of my working days.
    I sigh and I weep for what life has become in this 21st century. For what has been lost. For what has been given away. For what can be seen or apprehended no longer.
    The Rabbit Room is a nourishing place for me to see outside the immediate circumstances of my daily life. To infuse perspective and hope where I see not but concrete and barbed wire. Dirt and broken souls.
    To remember that a hope found only in Christ will set this world to rights at its appointed time. One day…
    In the meantime, I try to keep my head above water.
    I plant a little “querrilla garden” of peppers, tomatoes, lettuces/spinach/kale out the back door of the warehouse on a 5 x 5 wooden skid, in plastic buckets and wooden boxes. Last year the greens got eaten every weekend by an unknown critter. Though I did manage to get one good salad from it in the first days.
    Meh.
    To learn what it means to love in the midst of such circumstances. What the shape of one called to be like Christ might take in such a place. To forgive – to hope – to persevere.
    That is the challenge I wrestle with, groan over, and pray about so deeply. That is the place from which I long for the long-promised setting right of all things.

  3. Christopher Hagen

    Thank you for sharing your love of crafting maple syrup! I couldn’t help but remember the joy I’ve had personally in this wonderful first harvest:

    When the March wind blows, and the sun climbs higher, my heart keeps time with the drippin’ water.
    The birds are singin’ out my morning window; it’s the Sweetest Time, the Sweetest Time.
    When the sap starts runnin’, time to gather together, all the spiles and pails, I’ve been hoarding this winter,
    to catch the dew, of Spring’s first caress; it’s the Sweetest Time, the Sweetest Time

    With the whir of a drill and some frozen fingers, tap the spiles in snug to the ring of a hammer,
    hang the pails around under leafless branches; it’s the Sweetest Time, the Sweetest Time.
    As the day’s go by, when my job is over, as I walk home, I’m struck with wonder
    When I see that cool clear gift; it’s the Sweetest Time, the Sweetest Time

    Soon around this table, voices will give thanks, faces alight with glee
    and eager hands will pass, the drink from the wounded side of a tree, the wounded side of a tree.

    With the strike of a match and some whispered prayers, the smoke lifts high, bringing out the neighbors
    The day is fresh and our hopes are bright; it’s the Sweetest Time, the Sweetest Time
    In the bubblin’ pot, the sap turns darker while cranes on the wing are callin’ up yonder,
    The sun dips low then the syrup’s done; it’s the Sweetest Time, the Sweetest Time

    Now around this table, voices give thanks, faces alight with glee
    Eager hands now pass, the drink from, the wounded side of a tree

    This meal will finish a parable
    The Passion of the Maple Tree
    Making the Sweetest Time, oh the Sweetest Time; Making the Sweetest Time, oh the Sweetest Time.

    Spring’s the Sweetest Time

  4. Gina Sutphin

    @ginasutphin

    I love this so much! The work of spring is overwhelming and invigoration all at the same time. It is simultaneously exhausting and refreshing. And ss much as I dislike winter, I know it creates a forced rest that I would never take if Spring could last forever. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this!

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