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Life in Community

Winter Just Ain’t What It Used to Be

February 15, 2018 by

Winter just ain’t what it used to be, so tap a sugar maple tree.

Now what should we do? Christmas is over and the weather is terrible. What I mean by terrible is this: After a gorgeous snowfall and terrific sledding with our kids, the temperature suddenly rises; it rains and all the snow is gone, overnight. What we’re left with in the morning is mud, temperatures in the forties, no skating, no sledding and no way to enjoy the outdoors. We keep a close eye on the thermometer as if all our wishing could keep the temperature below thirty-two degrees, but our children’s wishes are no match for global warming.

Image of a girl and her grandfather maple sapping

Now, I must say that we live about 160 miles downwind of Lake Erie, right at the western-most edge of the Appalachians, so our region has always been subject to rapidly changing weather. But now the change is changing. I’m not qualified in any way to talk about climate change, I’m just greatly concerned about the lack of political will in the face of persuasive science, about climate change refugees, the mass migration this may cause, food insecurity, and the threat to our children’s snowmen.

These are my thoughts as I dress my children in raincoats and rain boots in mid-January and send them out to play. The only antidote to my climate-change angst are my neighbors, the Dunns. (Quick definition of “neighbors” on the Bruderhof: you share a front door, fridge, kitchenette, and cooking aromas.) The Dunns are everything the Bazeleys aren’t: practical, resourceful, and full of foresight. Shortly after Epiphany, the Dunns hauled home a maple-sap boiler, dusted it off, and installed it behind our house. I was incredulous: tapping trees in January? When I was young, we began tapping end of February or early March.

A young girl peers into a white maple sapping bucket

My skepticism melted with the snow as the sap began to rise and I could hear the first plink in the buckets. I watched my children race around energetically with the Dunn kids collecting sap and putting it on the fire to boil. They came in after dark – muddy, smoky, and begging to tap more trees.

The weather cooled off a little that week, but by the weekend, the jump ropes were back out and it really felt like sugaring time. Our whole family with grandparents in tow, and the toddler perched between the buckets and spiles, spent the afternoon traipsing around the woods, drilling holes and hanging buckets. The next day, nobody complained about the cold and I didn’t get cranky about all the mud: we were too busy gathering and boiling the first run. In fact, most of Spring Valley community was out collecting sap, hauling wood, and chatting around the sap boiling operations dotted across the property.

Three kids watch maple sap boil

The next morning at breakfast, we poured the first fruits of our maple syrup over porridge and watched out the window as (you guessed it) a bona fide January lake-effect snowstorm swept over us with plummeting temperatures and thick, swirling snow. As of this writing, our sap boiler is under six inches of snow, but tomorrow a melting south wind is predicted and the sap will flow again.

While we haul and stack cordwood with the miniature pony and equally miniature wagon, we always sing Pete Seeger’s “Maple Syrup Time.” It’s a catchy tune and the words are equally good. They’ve become my working answer to the intractable problems of climate change. Maple sapping is really about building a new world – one that operates on values at variance with unfettered capitalism. Here are two verses that will help you sing more, consume less, and eat local maple syrup:

First you get the buckets ready, clean the pans and gather firewood,
Late in the winter, it’s maple syrup time.
You need warm and sunny days but still a cold and freezing nighttime
For just a few weeks, maple syrup time!
We boil and boil and boil and boil it all day long,
Till ninety seven percent of water evaporates just like this song
And when what is left is syrupy don’t leave it too long –
Watch out for burning! Maple syrup time.
I’ll send this song around the world with love to ev’ry boy and girl,
Hoping they don’t mind a little advice in rhyme.
As in life or revolution, rarely is there a quick solution,
Anything worthwhile takes a little time
We boil and boil and boil and boil it all day long.
When what is left is syrupy, don’t leave it on the flame too long.
But seize the minute, build a new world, sing an old song.
Keep up the fire! Maple syrup time.

Listen to Pete Seeger sing “Maple Syrup Time.”


About the author


Jordanna Bazeley

Jordanna Bazeley lives at Danthonia Bruderhof in Australia with her husband, Johann, and their four children.

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