Sugar Camp

13 Mar

I wanted to dip my finger in the sugar spout jutting out of the tree a second time, but the demonstrator said only once. He said to see if we could taste maple. I put my finger tip underneath the tree spout and let the precious droplet form on it before tasting it. I closed my eyes, and the maple was there, faint—but there. There was a little kid with shaggy hair in front of me who dipped his finger three times, while his parents watched. It was obnoxious, even more so because he parents didn’t care enough to stop him.

Before the tasting, a man with a wool vest and spectacles showed one of the younger girls in the group how to screw a metal pole-type contraption into the tree to create a hole. He then hammered a small metal funnel into the tree. He hooked a metal pale to it and told us all to listen. We did. “Listen for the sound of spring,” he said. “Shhhh.” The rustling and whispering ended. Then, a few moments later the silence was broken as a “drip” sounded in the bottom of the bucket, followed by another, and another, until it became a steady, rhythmic dripping. The sounds of maple syrup. And spring.

The air felt wet, as if meant to rain but hadn’t yet actually decided when it would. I pulled out my gloves, put them on and stuffed my hands in my pockets to keep them dry. We walked to sugar camp. The air becomes smoky. Three women dressed in period clothing of the early 1800s work over three enormous cast iron cauldrons. There’s a small, rough-hewn log cabin behind them. The tree-water bubbles. When it gets hot enough, one of the women cracks an egg on the side of the cauldron and drops it in, explaining that the egg gathers the impurities to itself. After a few minutes she fishes it out: an egg boiled in maple syrup.

To their right, a young man in a collared, plaid shirt rolled up to his elbows hacks at logs with an axe. He wields it high over his should before crashing it down onto the wood. Bits and pieces of the tree spray out from every cut. He keeps crashing down the axe, stopping every few minutes to wipe the sweat from his forehead with his arm. He has bandages on a few of his fingers.

I stand on a dirt road, surrounded by grass and an old, re-created pioneer village. The air is wet and smoky. The only sounds are my own feet crunching into the ground. I can hear the wind and in the distance, geese. I can see trees everywhere, poking out from behind the wooden houses. And in this moment, I taste stillness. I feel it wrap around me. I become reacquainted with it after forgetting its existence in the city. I become conscious of the dirt under foot and the nearby trees and the dormant grass, the smell of mud after winter. I want to just dwell in it for awhile, to forget having to think about the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and to just, for once, be.

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