Maple sugar season is about so much more than maple syrup. More, even, than family camraderie.
Tapping maple trees and turning the sap into syrup is an education all of its own. There's science: how and why the trees drip; boiling, evaporation and concentration. There's history: we talk about Native Americans, pioneers and our own ancestors. There's math: how many gallons of sap make a gallon of syrup, the weight of a full tank, how much to charge for a full bottle, etc. And there's literature: Little House on the Prairie, anyone?
And then there are all the unexpected moments. Yesterday, for instance, we saw and heard both a woodpecker and a pair of sandhill cranes. We pryed fungus off a log and saw what it did to the wood beneath.
But more than that, even, is the fact that maple sugar season is an opportunity for our boys to contribute positively to the welfare of our family.
Some time ago, I read about the importance of work to boys. Boys, like their adult counterparts, like to feel useful. They like to challenge their skills and they like to those skills for the benefit of others.
My boys, like most American boys, are expected to help around the house. They pick up toys, put away their dirty dishes, unload the dishwasher and help with vaccuuming and dusting. But that's not the kind of work boys crave. They crave down and dirty physical work.
When we make maple syrup, my older boys get to help cut and haul wood. The younger boys unload wood from the trailer and hand it to their father as he stokes the fire. The older boys help drill holes, and even the young ones can pound in taps.
Together, we assemble and hang the bags, and together, we head out to collect the sap. At 8, 6 and 3, my three younger boys are too heavy to lift the bags of sap, but at 11, my oldest is already able to carry and unload all but the fullest bags.
For a few precious weeks in the Spring, we have the opportunity to work as a family, and my boys -- all four of them -- knew that their work is valued, important and appreciated.