Sap begins to flow as the snow melts

Courtesy photo The last standing sugar house in the hardwoods around Karen’s family camp.

ESCANABA — When the hot meets the cold.

When the March sun kisses the crusty snow.

Ghosts escape into the north lands in the form of eerie fog.

Yesterday meets today. Dripping icicles tick, tick, tick like the old-fashioned clocks. It’s a time of change!

From ice shacks out on the frozen Bay to sugar shacks deep within the dense hardwood forests, folks move with the seasons.

In the still of the mornings first light, the wild places peacefully awaken not knowing if the year is 2014 or 1814. Sap is rising. The ground is thawing. Long shadows dance across the waning snow.

Are the feet wearing moccasins or Sorel boots? Is the maple sap collected in containers of birch bark, tin or plastic?

Are these annual springtime dances stepping in time to a Native American drum or a pioneers fiddle or a tune on an iPod?

The sugaring season was such an important thing to the Indians of our area. Bands of tribes joined together to share in the work of gathering and boiling the glorious juice of the maple trees.

From the birch bark baskets to the heated rocks, from the fires to the steamy hissing, maple sugaring was hard and dangerous work.

But at the end of the winter, when food larders were running low and game was scare, the quick energy boost that the maple gave, was a much appreciated thing.

Celebrating broke out in the hardwoods. A good sugar harvest meant the survival of another winter.

Our ancestors often spent the whole winter at their homesteads. They saw no one; they went nowhere, until the sap was rising in the trees. Farmers, lumberjacks, fishermen and their families got out the old horse and sleigh and came together for the sugaring season.

Everybody had a job, stoking the fires hauling in pails or stirring and timing the boiling vat.

Today the making of maple syrup and sugar is a bit more modernized. Plastic tubing, gas evaporators and tractors have replaced tin pails, wood fires and big horses.

But the ghosts of sugaring days of old still linger in many wood lands. Every year, when the snow slowly recedes, it is like the frozen fossils of yesterday once again breath.

In almost everyone’s back forty, there’s the skeleton of an old sugar house. Maybe just the stones of the fireplace remain. Rusty pails and spouts can still be seen before the green vegetation appears. Loggers have found many a long lost tap with in a mighty old maple tree.

When twilight comes to the timeless sugar bush, if you listen really closely you can almost hear voices singing in French, Ojibwa, Finnish and Russian. It is the sweet song of spring!


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.