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Susan Krawitz

Finding Signs of Hope in Surprise Sugar Maples

Susan Krawitz | Longreads | March 2020 | 4 minutes (915 words)

It wasn’t the threat of a maple syrup shortage that got me into the woods with a power drill, hammer, makeshift buckets, and spiles, but my daughter’s request to tap some trees. The sun was out but the sky was cloudy, and the blue behind them looked bruised. And though the woods were quiet, the road I live on was far less so. There were dog walkers, joggers, and some people on bikes; a classic midsummer scene, but a very unusual one for an end-of-winter Monday. Local residents are very resident now, and so are the usually weekender ones. Alone together, we are hunkered down on this rural Catskill hillside, and in that suburb, in those cities, all across the world. We are buckling in for who knows how long, and finding ourselves with too much to think about, and all the time in the world to do it. So we walk, we bike, we tree-tap.

I should have tapped far earlier, as the sap run is nearly done. But I have a challenged history with maple sugaring. This property holds lots of red maple trees, but only one lone, sad specimen of the sugar kind, and the difference in sweetness between the two means far more effort, more boiling time, and less product at the end of it all. I ask myself every year if it’s really worth it, and many years that answer is oh heck, no.

It was a fairly warm day, so after setting a few taps, we trekked a bit further into the woods, exploring. There are huge thriving oaks there, and large pines as well, and also lots of ash tree skeletons, because the emerald green ash borer has recently decimated this tree tribe. But on the stone wall that divides my property from the next, I found the surprising sight of an ash waving live buds at the ends of its branches instead of dead knuckles.

Two months ago, I’d say finding this tree was like stumbling onto a trunkful of gold. A very recently updated metaphor would be spotting two 12-packs of toilet paper on a supermarket shelf.
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