It’s the warm days and cold nights of late winter that power the rising of the sap in our New England maple trees.  The expansion and contraction (plus some valves in the xylem) insure a one-way flow of slightly sweet water against gravity from root to bulging bud.  The larger trees are tapped with bungs and buckets to catch the stream, and this next weekend will be the ‘sugaring-off’, where gallons of sap are carefully cooked down to jars of syrup (40:1) or even the soft and distinctive maple sugar candy (60:1).

If this season produces a one-way flow in the trees, it has a two-way effect on the humans: we head up to spring in the sunshine, and back down into winter at night. The ‘warm’ days are maybe 45F / 9C, and the pond is still covered in ice, but any sign of warmth’s enough for those of us who froze all this extra-snowy winter.

‘Spring-cleaning’ may be simply a tradition in most of America, but for us northerners it’s a physical urge that borders on necessity.  There’s too much ice and mud out here yet for a real turf-out of the garage or the blankets the cats have been sleeping on, but the warmth of the day demands that we do something different and helpful, so one of the early spring jobs is to re-stock your woodpile.

We’ve been using wood all winter long, but we’re about done – even if we get some more snow, we won’t be lighting too many more fires.  The remaining dry wood must be brought to the front, and the wet wood outside brought in to dry out for the summer to be ready for the cold again which comes much too soon, no matter how I try to extend the sailing season.

But it feels good, like it’s cleaning something up, to throw the old dusty wood around, and lug successive armfuls of heavy beech and oak from the pile steaming in the sun to stack neatly in the shed.  It’s real work, man’s work, body work after two weeks of running seminars – which is work, sure enough, but requires so much of my feminine side.  My body revels in it, aching a little as the sinews stretch, but falling gratefully into the rhythm of a repeated task.  Slowly the shed fills with neat rows  of wound-up sunshine, which will dry and then unwind in our stove next winter. Quan and I do it together, and by the time we are finished, the chain saws and old bits of wire and the rest that has been thrown wherever it’ll go over the winter is all in order.

Stuff! It accumulates around us so easily in this Western world, and with such a big place, stuff of all kinds keeps filling in our spaces and has to be sorted and recycled.  Spring-cleaning leads to garage sales.  Going to other people’s garage sales results in more stuff.

It’s still too early for all that – not even any crocuses yet, let alone daffodils.  By nighttime the air chills down, the fat old moon rises huge (full and at a rare perigee). Our ‘sap’ changes direction and pulls down and inside to light one of those fires and eat soup that’s been simmering all day.

Tomorrow we will bring food to the fox under the barn on the hill; tomorrow we will go to the river to scope out what has to be done to be ready for summer, tomorrow I will pack for the next two weeks of teaching in Europe.  But tonight we lie together watching the fire dance, spooned in the comforting fit that only comes with a long marriage.


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