I live in New England, and to me March is the first Sacred Harvest of the year (or the last, if you start your year in spring). At the tail end of winter, at the beginning of what we usually call “Mud Season”, we get warm days that melt the last of the snow, and cold nights along with occasional snowfall. This weather thaws the ground so that seeds can begin to sprout and push up through the ground. Crocus and snow-drops can push up through the leaves and even snow, to remind us spring is coming.
The trees, having stood doing nothing through the winter, now respond to the warmth and thawing by drawing the melt water up through their roots, through the trunk, up to the branches and twigs, creating new buds, and the flowers we may not even notice high above our heads. (We rhapsodize about the colors of fall, but look around you as the spring forests come to life, the palette may be pastel, but if you watch amazing range of pinks, lavenders, golds, and other colors precede the green that comes with the leaves.) Remember that each tree has a root system below the ground, supporting and feeding it approximately as the same size as the canopy of the tree. It pulls in water and nutrients from the soil and carries it up sometimes hundreds of feet, to create flowers and nuts (or whatever fruiting system it makes), while we pass below unaware. I did wonder once “If water expands when it freezes, why don’t trees explode in the winter when their sap freezes?” Someone explained to me that when it gets cold, the trees stop sending the sap up to the leaves, so they are pretty dry inside during the winter (having no leaves to keep hydrated). But come spring, they suck up the moisture, and send it to every twig when the sun warms them. Then when it gets cold at night, down runs the sap. Warm and the sap goes up, chill and it goes down again. This sap also carries the nutrients the buds need, just as animals blood or milk contains sugars to nourish the cells of our bodies.
Humans, noticed that maple sap (and birch) is sweet, and runs freely this time of year, and we are Humans, noticed that maple sap (and birch) is sweet, and runs freely this time of year, and we are tapping into the trunks, ‘bleeding’ off some for our own use. We have to boil it down to get the syrup concentrated enough to store, but it an important harvest, a wonderful gift from our wonderful maples. Maples don’t appear in many lists of sacred trees of European traditions, but they certainly are sacred here in New England (and Michigan, and other places where they are loved). I have found maples to be very maternal, and giving. They allow us to take their sap, and make our lives sweet. They give us shade in the summer, give strong dense white wood for furniture, and sweet smelling wood for burning that we can keep warm. In the fall, their colors blaze with beauty. They teach us the amazing way they can live through the coldest of winters, having shed their leaves. The snow may come, but their branches do not break because they have let the leaves that collected the sun all summer go, and stand proud and stark letting the snow and wind pass harmlessly through their limbs. Their spreading roots hold them firmly against the wind. Then again in the spring, they pull up all the water and nutrients from the ground to the tiniest twigs. Bees make honey from their flowers. When we listen to them, they are patient and generous with us.
They don’t seem to be bothered that we are unaware of the roots we don’t see, or the life cycles we ignore, except when we are collecting what they make. As a child I played with the seeds, the little ‘helicopters’ they drop, as kids who live in maple country do. The man across the street from us put out one spile, with a bucket and a mug, so people could help themselves to a cup of the fresh sweet sap when they walked up the street. I learned about the sweetness of maples very young. So while you dress in layers this time of year, because you may use both the heater and the air conditioner the same day, stop and listen to the trees. You may relate more to oaks than the maples I love, but they all share their wisdom and lessons of how to carry what nourishes you from deep in the dark quiet places, out to the edges of your life where the way YOU flower spreads what you have within you to the rest of the world. Be grateful for the gift of sweetness. Collect it and refine it down so that you too can give sweetness to the world.