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HOOKING UP THE WOODS

Tina Hartell

Tapping trees is a remarkably repetitive task:

1. Approach maple tree and find footing on clumsy snowshoes.

2. Look for last year’s tap hole and determine where this year’s tap will go.

3. Drill hole into the tree (often involves drilling up over head).

4. Belt drill, fish in pocket for plastic tap, and set in hole.

5. Hammer tap into hole using lightweight tap hammer.

6. Unhook the drop line from the lateral line and secure the end on the tap = hooked up.

Repeat 2400 times.

Like other repetitive tasks, one can find a measure of the meditative in it. It can be relaxing, serene, and exhausting, but never boring. This year, the snow conditions helped add some variation to the meditation. The first two days were to be expected, on snowshoes, and moving fairly efficiently up and down the lines.

Then it snowed 15″.

Then it was flounder fest as we sunk up to at least our knees and often mid-thigh WITH snowshoes on. As a test, I tried walking without snowshoes: hip-deep and stuck. In the words of fellow tapper and philosopher Quill Gordon, “Snowshoes make the impossible difficult.”  Every step was slow and the uphills were often crushing. After a few days, we had made goat trails to the main sections of the mountain. But snow is fluid under pressure and it changes daily, sometimes hourly. After a few settling days, the walking became easier and the sinking less pronounced. Animal tracks appeared.

Then it rained 0.75″ and I came to miss the 15″ of fresh snow. Because now, wet clumps of snow stuck to my snowshoes with every step and while I wasn’t sinking to my knees, I was wearing 20 lb weights on each clumsy foot. But glimpses of the divine appeared through every ice-covered tree as they clicked together in the wind. Finally, the holy grail of tapping conditions arrived on the last couple of days as the water in the snow froze solid. We scampered about ON TOP of the snow, drunk on the ease of movement, snowshoes needed only for grip.

Annie Dillard says this about people who have had their sight restored after being blind, “for the newly sighted, vision is pure sensation unencumbered by meaning.” This sentiment echoes what I miss most about being young: the shininess – that time in our lives when everything appears new, alive, and pure sensation. Our minds have not yet dulled things to fit into some well-worn cranial groove. Yet being in the woods methodically tapping and moving slowly from tree to tree, I find, slows my mind down to where the work is sensation: the vibration of the drill and hammer, the cold feel of each tree, the sound of the snow. Plus, I get to see.

Bear claw marks on a young beech tree as it climbed up to gather beech nuts.

Bear claw marks on a young beech tree as it climbed up to gather beech nuts.

A moose bed. 

A moose bed. 

Moose tracks walking away from the bed. 

Moose tracks walking away from the bed. 

Squirrel nest with food cache.

Squirrel nest with food cache.