Sugarin' is like Ice Fishin'
Their seasons overlap a bit, but there's way more to it than that. Coming as they do during a time of year when sensible folk are catching up on their reading, moving the snow to a preferred location, or huddled around the wood stove, both ice fishing and sugaring offer a blessed break from taking yet another long look at this winter's to-do list.
From today's urban world view, both activities seem foolish. Neither one can justify all the work put into it by the material outcome alone. And yet the fish or syrup produced, while gladly come by, is but a nuance of the magnetism of the experience.
What Ice Fishers and Sugarmakers often keep secret is that they really do it because it's just so doggone satisfying. Both make holes to get at what they are after, one answering the call of the fish beneath the ice; the other the call of the sap beneath the bark. Both activities seem like repeated day-long camping trips, each day molded to a highly focused purpose of getting nature to work for you with just your bare hands. In each case one leaves behind the four walls of home for a trek to a place of almost spiritual effort, endurance, and ritual. The lighting of the fire, the peace of mind that such industrious meditations bring, watching and obeying the weather as it forms around you, all of these bring an singular experience unlike anything that most of the other inhabitants of this planet are ever likely to experience. And with the acknowledgment of that gift comes a gratitude.
From the ordinary person's perspective the two activities seem quite different. Fish are not like syrup, and watching a quiet hole in the ice is not like watching a frantic pan of sap at full boil. Scooping out the ice that's trying to re-claim the hole you made doesn't seem much like skimming off the foam so the sap doesn't boil over, even if you are using the same strainer. Re-baiting the hook isn't much like re-filling the evaporator. And of course one effort deals with cold things, the other with hot. But a more thorough examination finds that these differences are but superficial. A more discerning eye might notice that the short-term tenants of both the ice house and the sugarhouse are doing very much the same thing, and for similar reasons. The nouns are different, but the balm for the psyche is the same.
For the Ice Fisher, it's when the ice gets just thick enough; for the Sugarmaker, it's when the nose of spring just begins to peek into winter's tent; then both are off on their adventures, each with the unstoppable zeal of a new missionary. But of course they are; in the Old Religion it's how we pray.
Snowflakes hurry through my flashlight beam,
As my boots knead new snow into the spring mud,
On my nightly Hajj to keep the boil alive,
For as long as possible until the dawn,
To match the power of the flowing sap,
With my meager evaporator and will.
The prize at the finish line are jars of syrup