Of Maples, Mud, and a Marsupial
Sweet Spring Elixir
What is the first sign you notice, denoting the change of the season from winter to spring? Maple sap buckets and tubing running through the sugarbush. Was it the weather showing us the love by springing sugaring season on us so soon in mid-February? Or yet another signal of climate instability?
Sap is running in the Sugar Maple trees
and we march into the sugarbush to tap a great grandmother of a tree.
Hands against her bark body in prayer
may we take only what we need so that
she has what she needs to feed spring’s dreaming leaves.
We tap a spout into the Maple’s trunk and watch the clear liquid drip drip into our pail.
40 gallons of sap we must collect just to make one gallon
of the sweetest spring elixir this world has ever tasted.
Boil boil toil and trouble ourselves through the day and night
to make maple syrup thick like honey only darker
and we are like bees in the hive bustling about
to get the liquid sweetness just right.
The sticky sweet substance is steaming in the air
sweet rain gets caught in my hair
and now it’s drizzling on your neck and on my ear…
only part of the batch makes it to the breakfast table.
The other elixir…
This is life in New England! But it’s not all sweetness. What also marks the changing of the guard from winter to spring is that fifth season: mud season. Mud season definitely commenced its merry prankster business upon our vehicles much earlier this year. Back in January some of the dirt roads around here were acting like March had already hit the road and turned them into moats. Then in mid-February, after a thaw, we had a refreeze and moats turned into frozen channels we needed to avoid as we bumped along the back roads. As the season progresses those channels turn into troughs for our tires to get stuck in. Rock in, rock out, and you’re deeper in than the moment before.
But as winter drips drips away and the days lengthen, achieving equilibrium for a moment before alofting into longer sunlight, the saturated ground is making way for seeds wanting to sprout.
Tracking the Smile…
Traversing the in-between places on mud and snow, pads a squat little mammal; the only marsupial native to North America: the opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in Didelphidae. The word opossum comes from the Algonquian word apasum meaning “the white animal”. Opossums are gray-furred with white faces. And they always appear to be smiling.
Throughout late winter I was tracking my opossum neighbor around my yard. I love that ki lives here too and hope they feed on any ticks that cling to them. Opossums are fastidious mammals who appreciate a clean coat, figuring a tiny bit of extra tick protein is worth it. Sporting 50 sharp teeth, opossums eat just about anything – more than we humans would consider food. These omnivores eat invertebrates, eggs, amphibians, smaller mammals, carrion, and when in season, berries and nuts, and even vegetables. Given where I sometimes find their tracks, I wonder if they pause below the bird feeder to hoover up any leftover seeds on the ground, or if they are preying on the mice foraging for sunflower seeds.
I love seeing their prints in the snow and mud. I find them so amusing. They register 5 digits which look like a handprint. The tracks they leave look like some inebriated waddling baby dancing on hands and toes, sporadically slapping a stick down, which is their naked prehensile tail.
I have yet to meet up with my marsupial neighbor for a conversation. Opossums are generally quiet nocturnal folks who keep to themselves. Just knowing there is at least one in the neighborhood though makes me smile.
Enjoy the changing season and get out into the outside to see what your wild neighbors are up to.
Arianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, wild edible enthusiast, and Wiccan High Priestess lives in Ashfield, MA.
This article appears in the March 2023 edition of The Ashfield News.
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