Uncle Jerry has a kind of rogue-ish charm. Not 5 minutes after we had all arrived on his farm to help with some sap collecting and he had all the kids clustered around him and his petrified turtle and frozen solid snake. If St. Nicholas was a pirate who turned farmer and moved to Amish country Michigan...he'd be Uncle Jerry's identical twin brother.
A gentle sense of enchantment steals over you when you enter a wood entirely comprised of Maples in various stages of life. It's a sea of silver stalks dotted with hundreds of pails and buckets. We emptied out the sap into big buckets, leaving a wake of "Plinking" and "Plonking" behind us as the sap continued to drip into their newly emptied pails.
Uncle Jerry has managed these trees for decades...a true tree farmer in every sense of the word...boiling hundreds of gallons of sap every hour and churning out his fine E. Dover Maple Syrup.
After the sap is collected into buckets it is poured into a large tank pulled through the silver woods by two fine Percherons along a muddy twisting trail, which in turn is pumped into a tank...then it is back to the boiling room where a monstrous Willy Wonka looking machine boils the sap down to syrup. The air in this room is filled with steam and the sweet scent of maple sugar, and standing in front of the wood fueled boiler feels like entering a Maple sauna.
It is farmers like these...harnassing the natural life-blood of the trees...scratching their initials out on their small acreages in scrawl of corn, and apples, and wheat...these farmers inspire in the rest of us a desire for a dusting off of old cider presses...so that our children may watch the gears and wheels turn and hummm, and swell with swigs of homemade cider and the satisfaction that comes with putting up enough food and drink for long Winters...they inspire in us a love for traditional arts of cultivation at slower paces...and as farmers like these grow older the land they have so long tended grows younger...there are saplings in those silver woods...and one day soon they will need tapping too.
Do not stand by as small farms dissapear. Take your child to a local farm. Plant a seed. It will grow.
"The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses." — Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder)