The taps are in! Maple syrup season has begun. It's such an exciting time with all the hope that this activity brings. At the beginning there is snow on the ground, but after a few weeks of tapping and hauling sap, boiling it down and celebrating out of doors, and before we know it, spring is upon us. Though, if neighbor Bruce knows anything (and that he does), he's warning us all that "winter isn't done with us yet!". So we shall see, and be prepared for whatever March brings. Still, I do love the way tapping trees brings us out - at a time when usually the prime sledding/skiing season has passed, and things are starting to turn to mush and the beginnings of mud season (a real and true season of its own) are everywhere. It's too early for getting much work done out there, and a lot of the elements needed for winter play is moving on out. But tapping the trees, and all that goes with it, it draws us out many times a day. And I love it for that. (The syrup is a great reward too).
This year, we are tapping considerably fewer trees than in the past. Certainly, we can use all the syrup we can gather, and it never stretches as far as we wish that it would. But this decision was one based on our days, and being mindful of how they flow (ha!). There were years in which we were fully able to dedicate the hours needed to as full of a syrup operation as we could have here....and this year just doesn't seem to be one of those. We have, we realized, entered a new season of our family life in this past year or so. One which finds our kids, especially the older three, doing exciting things out of the house. Every so often, I find myself longingly thinking about the years when we didn't have this kind of a schedule - when days upon days were spent at home, not paying attention to the clock or sometimes even the calendar. But I'm always snapped out of that nostalgia with the awesomeness of the present - the great opportunities they're offered, the amazing growth I see in them, the involved and engaged people they are becoming in their various communities. It's all wonderful, and I've even come to love the driving (truly). Ah, but it always means looking closely at our days, and asking once in while, is this (or the other thing)working for our family right now? and what does this (or that) do to our days? The biggest challenge of all, of course, being that we still have some very littles, for whom I want to give the same experiences and childhood that their older siblings had. And those older siblings? They're not so old that the activity and tradition of our family rhythms don't matter. In fact, I think they matter just as much. And so, like other adjustments we make in our days together....we keep tapping trees, just maybe fewer. A little less time hauling buckets of sap from the woods, and a little more time for making the schedule of our day a bit less cramped and (over)full.
Tapping fewer trees, of course, is a relatively small and minor decision. We didn't exactly belabor over it, and I'm sure the kids don't even notice the difference between 50 taps or 15. But I've been thinking a lot about all those little decisions we make and how they add up to such importance as our family shifts and changes, stretches and grows. I thought about that a lot this weekend too, which was so incredible. Incredible in all the games of checkers, the late-night all-sibling hockey game by lantern on the pond, the side-by-side sibling math fun, the meals with no rushing, the amount of spinning I was able to do. All because we were all home, home, home for the entirety of it. Previously a common occurrence, and now quite rare, it feels like such a treasure when it does happen. I was reminded over and over again this weekend of how wonderful and important that time is though, and how necessary it is to work hard to make sure we keep that, when we can. Always examining our days, reconfiguring our plans. Letting go of this, and bringing on that. I think that balance-keeper is the role Steve and I play most often in this season of our family life. It isn't always an easy one, but oh, the rewards - for all - are so very sweet.