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Tapping into a backyard conversation

Posted Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Checking the buckets out back.

Blockprint by Carolyn Loeb.

This year's weather has made for a stop and start season for sugar makers both large and small. Our Conservation Program Manager Carolyn Loeb shares this Story from the Land, from her own backyard: 

Our neighbors, Ollie and Cleo are at it again. 

“Hey, what do you think about today?” “Okay, let’s do it!” “Actually, I changed my mind.” “What?! But I already started!” “Well, I just don’t feel like it anymore. It’s kind of cold. Let’s hold off.” “You always say that!” “Ugh. I’m just not into this.” “Okay, fine… maybe tomorrow?” “Actually, I don’t really want to commit to anything. Let’s see how we feel later…”  

I can almost hear the imperceptible sigh that follows the exchange, since I’m trying really hard to follow the conversation. Eavesdropping, to be honest. I’d like to think I’m not the judgmental type, but the conversation seems to be on repeat. Like, every year.  

Ollie is a beautiful middle-aged redhead. Cleo is an older neighbor, a sugar maple of sage and grizzled appearance. In the way of many trees, these two individuals are non-binary. And I, with my taps and buckets, would like to understand their plans. 

At this time of year, the forest awakens in subtle ways. Days grow longer. Trees drink deep from snowmelt after winter’s deprivation. Red-winged blackbirds return to Vermont. And the sap begins to run. It is the sweetest time of year for sugar makers. And also arguably for red squirrels, who seem to understand there is something special happening under the surface of all that bark.   

On starry nights, my husband and I like to sit outside and supervise the simmering sap. The trees crowd around us—they, too, are overseeing the proceedings. Tapping ten trees, we still produce a quart of syrup or more per boil. This year, though, has been tricky—we started in February, and then it got cold. The conversation among our trees seems to be getting harder to decipher as the climate changes. But this evening, my backyard is alive with a magic humanity is only beginning to understand, and I too feel like I am stirring after a long winter’s slumber.