My maple brothers and sister

Karen Wils photo At right, my son Bob checks the sap in his buckets around the family sugar bush.

ESCANABA — Some are tall and lanky. Some are broad and stout. Some are silly and young while others are serious seniors. But they are all my brothers and sisters.

No, I’m not talking about my siblings. I am referring to the maple trees that thrive on the hill surrounding our family camp.

Four generations of Rose (Wils) children and multitudes of maple trees have graced that ridge along the Escanaba River for a long time.

Rooted together in the same fertile soil, my human family and my tree family has grown and matured over the years. I talk to my siblings, laugh with them, weather storms with them and stand with them, and I do the same with the maple trees.

If you flew over the place in an airplane, you’d see a mixed and healthy forest predominately, maples. The “little hole in the hardwoods” is where our camp is.

The maple trees are beautiful in every month, but in March, they are magical.

March is maple syrup month. My ancestors ran a pretty successful maple syrup operation in the Cornell woods decades ago. When my son Bob was in high school he tapped the sugar bush near camp. With a pair of snowshoes and a hand pulled sled, he collected enough sap to provide the family with syrup to last for a year.

When I retire, I would love to spend lots of time among the maples as they slowly come to life in the early springtime. I’d tap them and let my husband do the hard tedious work of boiling it into syrup.

My leafy brothers and sisters come in two varieties, hard maples and soft maples. Both are good for tapping but the soft maple, or “sugar maple,” as it is called, is the best. The sugar maple is Michigan’s most common wild tree species.

Dating way back to the times of native peoples, pioneers and our great-grandparents, sugaring has always been a very important rite of spring in the U.P.

March and early April weather in the Northwoods creates the perfect combination of freezing and thawing temperatures that makes the sap run. This “sweet” season lasts only about four weeks. In the olden days, neighbors and families often gathered to share in the work of tree tapping and sap boiling. A party or celebration usually followed.

If the maple trees that grow near camp could only talk. Many of them are nearly one hundred years old. Their hardwood environment was groomed and perfected by my dad’s selective cutting.

The maple family does so much for us. They keep us shady and cool in the summer. They house a large assortment of wild animals and birds for us to enjoy. Cut, split and seasoned, the maple wood warms us in the winter.

Some people refer to a stand of maple trees as a “sugar bush.” I call a maple forest “family.”


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


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