Arbor Day: Trusting the Sign of the Maple, Herald of Spring

January 14

“The fact is, Maples have a far more sophisticated system for detecting Spring than we do.” Robin Wall Kimmerer in “Braiding Sweetgrass”.

When my brother was about 12, he and his cousins burned the sap shanty in the sugar bush. They were camping there and their campfire got away from them. Perhaps it was that accident that recalled my Dad to the maple syrup business which was winter work on the dairy farm when he and his siblings were young. So, that February, (remember we lived in the warm ‘Banana belt’ of Ontario,) Dad helped us put spiles in the maple trees on the lawn and down the road. We collected sap and boiled it down in a shed in the back yard.

Dad used to say that the best temperatures for collecting sap hovered at freezing. At night it should dip below freezing and, in the day, it should climb a bit above freezing. Although there is no doubt that February is still winter, the days are noticeably longer and whether or not Wiarton Willy, the groundhog, sees his shadow, apparently the trees know that Spring is coming.

I was surprised to learn recently that Jewish Arbor Day is celebrated in the Winter; this year the date of Shevat is January 15. In Canada this is not ideal weather for tree planting, but this time is chosen not for tree-planting but because “the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.”

One author muses: “Tu B’Shevat is the day when the sap begins to rise through the tree. In other words, we can’t see the fruit yet, but we are celebrating the process of growth itself. And most of this process we can’t see because it’s beneath the surface of the ground.”

As we continue to struggle with this winter’s challenges: still Covid, Omicron restrictions, over-worked medical workers, isolation, and for some, real economic hardship – may we find hope in the maple tree. Although I write this during deep freeze temperatures of January, Maple Sugar producers may begin to tap trees as early as the first week in February. As surely as Wiarton Willy will poke his nose out to see how long until Spring, so the dormant trees will begin to draw sap from their roots in the sure knowledge that Spring is coming.

We are like the Maple trees; there is a life energy within us that is drawn to the surface by the goodness of life. We can trust this life energy within us. Like the trees we are meant to survive and thrive.  

Gratitude Prompt: Contemplate and be awed by the trust of the maple tree that anticipates Spring while it is still winter. Give thanks for the life energy in me that can trust in my “Spring” when it is still winter.