strange and wholesome: box elder syrup
Last week Col learned about St. Patrick’s day at school. “I guess if you don’t wear green there’s this elf that pinches you,” Col said matter-of-factly before asking, “but do we even celebrate it?”
I thought of the year I bought a creepy, fat-spangled rectangle of corned beef from the supermarket, blood sponging off of it into its plastic wrap. And all the following years that I marked St. Patrick’s day simply as the day after which it was safe to plant peas at 6512 feet.
“I guess not,” I told Col.
But, it turns out we have so many spring traditions that I’m feeling like an anthropologist studying our own family for clues to the season: oh look, there’s the father driving *and* scoping the hillsides for antlers, and hey, there’s the mother sifting carrot seeds into soil, laughing nuttily to herself as snow plasters her glasses.
For Rose, so far, outside looks a lot like inside.
Thank goodness for the ever-giving contents of our shed. Col’s making a robot, if you couldn’t tell. Although, after hustling upstairs to grab snacks, I came back down to find Col with 4 different flammable chemicals he filched from Dan’s work bench, all lined up like matchbox cars. Zoiks!
Another sign that spring is peeking around the snowy corners of our lives is that the very air of our house is fogged up with sweet sugar steam. (also, we’re in short sleeved nirvana one day, then back to thick jackets the next).
It’s always hit or miss, which of our wacky projects the kids will take to. Maybe it’s the novelty of this being our first time tapping trees with the kids, or maybe it’s the way we bump suspensefully around the neighborhood with our rag-tag sugar cart, knocking on doors like we’re part of some religious cult. Or maybe it’s that the kids can participate by drilling holes, hammering spiles (fancy word for “taps”), and hanging buckets, that they’ve loved this sugaring season so much.
the sugar cart aka $5 garage sale stroller that the kids would *love* to be schlepped around in still
knobbly old box elder
An original wooden tap we made with our mailman 15 years ago (who helped us match trees with homeowners), still in the tree!
Hot stuff McTapperson and young grasshopper with antler mallet
the plastic tubing recommended by Jennifer, was crucial for directing the sap into the bucket, while keeping out legions of insects and barky bits
jars of sap hobnobbing with pinto beans on the front porch/auxiliary kitchen
The whole thing is so comically urban. We accidentally woke up this heavily pierced dude whose front yard box elder tree was so stunningly large that Rose and I braved his ferocious, man-eating dogs to knock on his door. “It’s my grandma’s tree,” he said, rubbing his eyes and squinting down on us with our stroller full of strange and wholesome equipment. “It doesn’t hurt the tree.” I offered cheerily.
“Oh, you couldn’t hurt that tree if you tried.” He grumbled and then eventually conceded, “be my guest.”
We tapped the tree at the Unitarian Church on our street (Rose calls it the U Choose Church, instead of UU, which seems fitting) and then last Sunday Dan gave an informational demo to the Sunday school class complete with syrup tasting.
Box elder syrup seems to be in the same category as acorn meal, or chokecherries, AKA don’t ponder too much the energy it takes to yield food, which in this case: 3 gallons boils down to about oh, 1 cup. But that one cup is heavenly, even if you boil it too long and it turns into a thick glump of caramel that you have to extract with a knife.
puddle of box elder syrup
Love your strange and wholesome friend,
* also, I have another essay on Mamalode this week. It’s called With Daddy and it’s about some of Dan’s strange and wholesome tendencies. An excerpt: Some dads discover excellent kid-friendly restaurants or half-price family day at the ski hill, and well, some suss out hobo caves.
Mamalode is that site where you get paid based on views. And I should explain that while my dear sweet friend Kati was trying to help me out by clicking on my last Mamalode essay every 1/2 hour, they’re smarter than that over there. It’s unique views, which is fancy. So share on your Facebook page or your twitter chain-letter or with your homies down at the park, or however you like to get the word out.
This is what our last day trip “with Daddy” yielded: anasazi pottery littering the ground like leaves.
* also #2, my friend Susan, who is one of the loveliest writers on the internet (and beyond), has an essay in the latest issue of Ms. Magazine called Four (same-sex) Weddings and a Funeral. You should totally check it out.
* also, #3: the evening grosbeaks are back and we’re all happily flipping out over the privilege of spending $10/week to keep them in sunflower seed. Any spring visitors in your neck of the woods?