Here at Wolf Ridge, spring is slowly fighting to be seen and heard. We have had just a handful of days with temperatures creeping above freezing, allowing our 38 inches of snow depth to sink to 31inches in just one week! Downy woodpeckers are beginning to court like boys and girls at recess, the Red-Breasted Nuthatches have returned from a winter away, and Pileated Woodpecker has begun to drum out old snags for shelter. In years past, the “caw” of the crow was the sign of spring for the Ojibwe people. Though most days it doesn’t feel like it, still today the crow serves as a reminder that warm weather is coming.
Between the warming days, and still freezing nights of early spring, the fluctuating temperatures triggers pressure changes within trees and other plants that have endured the harsh winter. As the flora begin to warm, nutrients will begin to flow within to prepare itself for budding and leafing. Squirrels, woodpeckers, even deer discovered the sweet secret that runs inside these maple trees in spring. And here in the Northwoods, the Ojibwe recognized the animals’ discovering, and would relocate to maple groves (or sugar bushes) in springtime to literally tap into another natural food source: sap.
This week, Wolf Ridge staff tapped about 25 healthy maple trees. Though our equipment differed from the Ojibwe, the process and tools all result in something delicious: maple sugar and syrup! With the stubborn winter trying to stick around for a few more weeks, the warming days and freezing nights will continue to change pressure inside that tree and sustain sap flow! For the Ojibwe, the sugar harvested from the sap served as a high caloric energy source and seasoning throughout the seasons. It was light to carry compared to the sap itself and especially tasty on wild rice, another staple food item.
We are excited for warmer weather, as well as the food source it brings to sweeten our coffee and pancakes. Traditions like these are always so incredible to be a part of when you think of just how important springtime was for collecting a food source like maple sap for the Ojibwe. No doubt long winters like these were just as frustrating, but equally rewarding for the amount of sugar that could be harvested.
(No maple trees were harmed during this process!)
By Amy Hughes