In February, when the nights remain cold and the days are getting longer, tree sap begins to flow. And that means it's time for a visit to the in-laws' sugar shack for the annual ritual of making maple syrup.
Trees are tapped, sap is collected in buckets and ferried to the shack to be drip-fed into the huge, wood-fired pan that will boil off nearly all of the water. The sap travels to three chambers in order within the pan, becoming thicker as it goes.
It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. This means a round-the-clock vigil of several days to keep the fire fed, to deliver a steady supply of sap to the tank, to monitor levels in the pan to prevent burning, and to draw off the precious elixir at just the right time.
Family and friends gather at the sugar shack to enjoy these simple gifts of nature: the billowing fragrant steam, wood smoke, and sweet syrup fresh from the pan. It is a time to share food, drink and laughter. It is a time of comfort and joy, for if we are all together we can weather any winter. And if the sap is running, spring cannot be far behind.
* Many thanks to all of you who sent condolences on the loss of my husband's dear father. Your thoughts and comments were were a comfort.