I was thrilled this morning when I stepped out of the house and found the air crisp and cool—the kind that catches in your throat in your first breath and gives you that single instant reminder that you are alive. I personally love the coming of Fall; to be absolutely honest, I’m a fan of the coming of each seasonal change: the first snows of Winter, the first crocuses of Spring, the first swimming day of Summer and the first gold and red leaves of Fall. The round of the year is mimicked in my social cycles: the beginning of school, Halloween and Thanksgiving, the glory of Christmas, birthdays, final exams and summer vacations. The land and my life reflect and inform one another in my mind and each change is celebrated with a rush of joy—knowing always that what is being left behind will be returned to, in its proper season.
Amongst many in our society, the round of the seasons seems to be a thing to dread, not celebrate. I talk to some friends, they speak wistfully of Southern California, where its always 70 degrees and sunny. Maybe I just don’t have enough experience with that type of life, but it sounds monotonous and horrible. It’s bad enough that we have self-contained little environments in our cars, stores and homes that never allow us to experience the subtle joys of changing weather. To homogenize it, to remove weather all together seems to be another way to take variety out of life. Perhaps its good for Californians, but let me keep my white Christmas.
This was originally going to be a post about maple syrup, believe it or not. Maple syrup, in my estimation, is about as close to ambrosia as us mere mortals can handle. I use it not only with my traditional pancakes, but as sweetener in most everything that needs sweetening (though I still stick to honey in tea)—it’s the touch of Upstate. According to the NYS Maple Producer’s Association:
“New York maple syrup 2006 production increased 14 percent from last year’s below-average crop. Syrup production is estimated at 253,000 gallons, up from the 222,000 gallons produced in 2005... Only two states, Vermont and Maine, produced more syrup. The number of taps, 1.53 million, increased 8 percent from last year.”To bring this post back around (that is the theme after all), maple syrup is the last gift of dying winter, one of the first harbingers of Spring. The maple trees themselves must be 30 years old before they can be tapped, thus a working sugar bush is a product of foresight, planning and patience—the antithesis of modern Capitalism, but of great value in the sustainable society I hope to see emerging. Maple syrup is local food made by local people.
So, the next time that you think about the turn of the year and wish that winter would just end already remember maple syrup, which is the distilled whisper of the summer sunshine two years previous[i]. And the next time you have pancakes and you pour on that Real NYS Maple Syrup, you might think about how you’re enjoying the hard work of the tappers and boilers and the foresight of our mothers, fathers and grandparents. That sounds like quite a bit for breakfast, but if you’re eating maple syrup, chances are you don’t have a cereal box to read.
[i] The math goes like this: if you are eating maple syrup in the winter, you’ve probably gotten it from the boiling the previous Spring. That syrup is boiled down from sap, which is itself created using the sunshine from the previous summer’s growing season. So the maple syrup we eat now was made in the tree two summers ago.