Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36





 by Jim Northrup (Pamida Jim!!)

I just call it the woods. It is where my maw, my grammaws, and all the grammaws before them came from. Going home I am when I go to the woods.

Spring returns to the north woods of Minnesota. Sure enough, the Shinnobs in this HUD house are excited about going to the sugar bush. We have been hearing the crows for a while now. The returning birds let us know it is time to make maple syrup.

Eagles, crows, swans, ducks, and some I don’t know are flying about. I looked in the mirror and saw a brown bellied sap sucker looking back at me. The moving birds keep me looking up to see what comes next as winter fades and spring comes booming in.

Before we went into the woods we gave the three grandchildren the standard lecture.

“We are quiet in the woods because this is the deer’s house and we are just visitors. See the tracks?”

At first the snow is thigh deep to adults and waist deep to the grandchildren. The snow has butt prints where someone tipped over. One day I used snowshoes to make trails. I waded from tree to tree, breaking trail for a train of grandchildren. One is carrying milk jugs, one is carrying taps, one is just watching, trying to keep up. Using a brace and bit I drill a hole at a slight upward angle into the maple tree. Using an always handy twig I clean out the shavings. One hands me a tap and I tap-tap it into the tree. We watch to see if the sap comes through the tap. I hang the jug on the tap. With some trees, the sap pulses out of the tree, like a heartbeat almost. The kids make O shaped mouths when they see the sap coming out like that.

We got about 130 trees tapped but are bragging 150. What I like about going to the woods is I have to walk slow. That is good because it gives me a chance to appreciate what the Creator has given us.

When we went to gather the sap the kids got the standard lecture, “Spilling sap is a felony, anyone spilling sap spends a night in the box. Oh, wait a minute, that’s from Cool Hand Luke. Just be careful with the sap. Remember, we are quiet in the woods.”

The laughter of the children broke the quiet rule as they run from tree to tree, laughing, wanting to be first to empty a full jug.

“Watch out for the deer poop,” one little voice cautioned.

We brought the sap home and built the fire.

I like to build a base of hot coals using dry maple. Every time I go to the woods I look for dry standing maple, Cadillacs I call them. The Cadillac of firewood.

After the bed of coals is ready we add more dry wood and then stack split firewood around the kettle.

At first as it heats the wisps of steam come off in a tentative way, as the sap gets hotter, the steam comes rolling off, seemingly happy to be free.

The Shinnobs are drawn to the kettle like a magnet. As more people join the circle around the fire, each one looks around for something to do. One takes charge of the balsam branches that are used to keep the sap from boiling over. Another takes responsibility for the fire, keeping it fed and roaring. One tells stories. Once again, there is time for everyone to tell a story. At one boil we had 14 humans and two dogs sitting there.

The fire roars on and we are reminded that we are just one of the generations that have sat around such a fire watching sap boil down. We are bathed in woodsmoke.

After about seven hours of kettle time the syrup comes off the fire. We are ever so careful as we carry the hot syrup into the house for the final boil and filtering.

Now I have jars and jars of dark maple syrup.

This has been a good learning season for the grandchildren. They learned to be quiet in the woods, to respect the gifts we have been given. They also learned the way we make syrup, how to make the taps, how to drill the trees, how to collect the sap and then boil it into syrup.

Another seasonal cycle of the Anishinaabeg cycles through. We are blessed to be a part of it. We thank the Creator for the gift of syrup. Mii gwech
Recycled Sugar Bush Question of the Month
Q. Why is some of your syrup dark and some light colored.
A. Some of it we boil at night.
The views expressed in this column belong to the writer alone. They are not meant to represent this newspaper, the Fond du Lac Reservation, the Fonjalackers, my cousin Rathide, my neighbor, my grandchildren, or my wife Patricia. Comments can be sent to FdL Follies, PO Box 16, Sawyer, MN 55780-0016 email webpage



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