There are several things I don’t like about winter, but being cold tops the list. I have to wear so many layers to feel adequately warm that I’m no longer functional because I cannot move my limbs. Add to that the winter blahs, and human nature could very easily win out, making me stay indoors instead. But soon I’ll notice something in the air which motivates me a bit — the smell of skunks. You might consider them offensively odiferous, but they make me happy! It means the ground is warming, waking skunks out of their winter slumber.

The leaves of a sugar maple turn from green to red in fall.
The leaves of a sugar maple turning red in fall. Photo courtesy Steffen Foerster/

So I put about 10 layers of clothing on, give myself a little pep talk, grab up some buckets and a drill and hike out to the part of my parents’ property that has sugar maples — because maples are also waking from their winter slumber. All spring and summer long those big, beautiful leaves gathered up sunlight and produce slightly sugary sap. The sap has been stored all winter, just waiting to nourish the new growth within the tree’s buds. Before the buds officially need it (about the time they open up), we can collect the sap, boil it down from slightly sugary to really sugary, and enjoy it on our pancakes, waffles, ice cream or really just about anything. I haven’t met a food that doesn’t pair well with maple.

Two light blue buckets are attached to sugar maple trees, tapping the trees of their sap.
After tapping a tree, buckets like these collect maple sugar.

The sugar maples are a little bit of a hike out, so I have ample opportunity to tell myself the air is “brisk,” and not actually uncomfortably cold. Every crunchy step on frozen leaves takes me deeper into the woods, farther from worries that cloud thoughts and add stress. As I warm up, I can almost feel that stress melting, dissipating into the air. Although I’m carrying a bunch of equipment over uneven ground, I arrive at my destination feeling lighter, more restored. As I go to work with the simple task of putting little holes in trees to gather just one of the many gifts the woods provides, I am reminded of its most generous gift: the woods will always absorb your burdens.

Suzanne Roth
Education Manager, Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve