Below is an excerpt from Chapter March, Totemic, from my newest book: Seasons of the Sacred Earth. Available at bookstores everywhere August, 2013.
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Arielle and I were down by the brook on the southeast corner of the homestead upon an icy, clear mid-spring day. The thaw had engorged the normally placid little brook, and its waters tumbled and pounded wildly upon the stones scattered among its bed. The spray had frozen wherever it touched leaf or twig and metamorphosed into a menagerie of icicles that hung from the branches of young trees and shrubs leaning out over the water. We were preparing to tap an ancient maple that was just beyond the fence surrounding the Firefly Meadow. The sun was shining, it was just a couple degrees over freezing—a perfect day for sugaring. The sap would flow vigorously in such weather. And no sooner did I finish drilling a hole, angled slightly downward and about an inch into the tree than clear, sweet sap began to run. It reminded me of the Green Man’s blood, though it would do this great old tree no harm to accept a few taps. It was so large I could not wrap my arms around its circumference, and indeed the attention it had received over the last few years as a “sugar bush” had led to some essential doctoring without which the old maple would not have made it much longer, for we had noticed it had some rot here and there and we had done a bit of tree surgery to stop the infection.
When the sap hole was ready, I stepped aside so Arielle could tap it. With a small hammer she drove in a little nickel spigot with a hook attached to its tip. From this we hung a sap bucket sufficient to hold about a gallon. We hung five such buckets around the trunk and stepped back to survey the work. A tree such as this could produce much more but we made it a point to take no more from Earth than we needed. On a day such as this the tree might fill each of the buckets and five gallons of maple sap were enough for us for a good week. We didn’t actually produce syrup; we just wanted the sap. It is little known what a wonderful beverage spring sap is—like an ambrosia of the gods. And not just maple sap. We also tapped birches in spring, which produce a wonderful slightly sweet, minty sap.
Just then we heard little Natalia running down the meadow. She was crying. I turned, about to ask what was the matter, but before I could speak she cried, “Dad! Something killed the kittens!” Just a moment ago, I had been happy as a lark and feeling proud of a good job done in harmony with the green world, but suddenly all that melted away.