I don’t mean the kind of miracles we often think of, in a biblical sense: an event that defies all laws of nature, and happens only once-in-a-lifetime (or only once-in-history, and only a very long time ago). In fact, the miracles I’ve come to see around me are the exact opposite: they ARE the laws of nature, and they are happening every day. I have held a seed in my hand, a TINY tiny seed, that has everything inside it needed to turn into an onion. A whole onion! That I will eat! Inside that tiny tiny seed! Honestly, I may not even believe such a thing if I didn’t get to see it happen in front of me, and help this miracle occur day after day over the course of a farming season.
Hearing about these miracles is one thing, and witnessing them is another, but putting in long days of physical labor to actually help them occur is truly a life-changing experience. I’ve eaten maple syrup before; it’s delicious. Then, during my first farm tour at Adamah, I was told that it took 40 gallons of sap from a sugar maple tree to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. I couldn’t believe it! It changed the way I thought about maple syrup – for a minute. But I quickly forgot.
This year it seemed that even the Sugar Maple Trees at Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT celebrated Purim. We’ve been tapping about 30 trees over the last three weeks, during this short late-winter maple syrup tapping season. On the day before Purim, unlike any other day until now, some of the buckets were bone dry. Maybe the trees were reminding me to fast? Purim night, conditions were terrible for sap flow; the temperature stayed above freezing all night and by nine in the morning it was already over fifty degrees. The trees flow best when it dips below freezing at night and reaches forty degrees during the day, so I would never have predicted that by eleven o’clock on Thursday morning most of the buckets would be full to the brim with cool sweet sap.
Appropriately, on the night of Purim the trees couldn’t tell the difference between good conditions and bad conditions. Thursday morning, I did a mad dash to collect all the sap before the buckets overflowed.
Early spring is a magical time for maple sugar makers in the Northeast. After three months of cold temperatures, quiet mornings and early evenings, the awakening of the natural world is ever so apparent now. The warm March sunlight melts the snowpack and maple sap begins to flow from the trees.
Preparations for the maple harvest on our farm in southwest New Hampshire, started a month ago, around Tu B’Shvat. Although we were celebrating the birth of our natural world with four feet of snow underfoot, one could still sense that below the snow things were awakening. We started tapping maple trees around the end of Shevat until the beginning of Adar, near the beginning of March. Tapping the trees involves snowshoeing into the woods, pulling a sled full of buckets, lids, spiles (an iron spigot that is driven into the tree), hammers and drills. When we approach our first sugar maple tree, we take a moment to give thanks for arriving at this moment in time. We take turns drilling the hole into the tree, hammering the spile into a hole and hanging a bucket off the spile. We pay close attention to where previous years’ taps were set, being careful not to tap too close and injure the tree. This year our family put out about fifty taps, contributing to the 600 total in our community. We are always amazed by the beauty of the trees and the miracle of maple sugar.