This is the big ol’ sugar maple tree in our yard.
The one Bill tapped first when he wanted to try maple sugaring.
He hung a few little buckets on it and eagerly waited for the dripping sap to fill them so he could do “the cook.”
The gallons of slightly cloudy liquid he collected turned into only one solitary pint of syrup after hours on our stovetop.
I was surprised at how little there was but also blown away at how delicious it tasted!
We didn’t waste a precious drop, quite a feat with little kids eager for more on their pancakes!
The next year Bill collected in earnest from the grove of many maples in his dad’s woods, which now belong to us.
He still put a bucket on this tree but more as a gauge to know when the sap was running in the sugar bush 6 miles up the road than to collect from it.
I love this majestic tree not only for helping us practice syruping years ago, but because it’s always felt like a wise, steady and loyal presence that I can count on.
It’s been standing next to the driveway witnessing the history of this land for years.
It was probably a good-sized sapling when the remnants of the long gone lumberyard’s dirt dam below the barn were still connected across Byrds Creek creating a pond for floating logs that rode the creek down from the steep ridges to the north.
It witnessed the conventional farmers planting only corn and alfalfa that came after that lumberyard and before us.
The maple tree seems to be telling me to hang in there. To continue being true to myself and others, and most importantly, to never give up hope, because that’s what has always gotten me through the hard times.
And it saw Bill and I pull in for the very first time, full of excitement for our possible future, to view the house before the auction at which Bill and his dad placed the final bid.
Since then we’ve gone in and out countless more times for countless reasons — some trivial, some happy, some routine, some tragic — over the past 26 years.
It’s nestled my kids an equally countless number of times. They could depend on its huge crooks to hold them whether they climbed it to see how high they could go, were tucked in behind its branches during a hide-and-seek game, or even needed a solitary spot to sort out a dilemma.
It’s stood sturdy and steady as we’ve questioned, fumbled and found our way as farmers.
And I trust, it’ll still be right there with its shaggy bark and abundant foliage reaching toward the sunlight long after we’re gone.
When I stop and look at it, I feel my place in this world better.
I know I matter so much to some but not much at all to many, many others.
I know events in my life seem hugely important to me but are just a speck in the hugeness of time and space.
Feeling that perspective and letting it settle in my soul calms me even when it seems there’s no calm to be found.
The maple tree seems to be telling me to hang in there.
To continue being true to myself and others, and most importantly, to never give up hope, because that’s what has always gotten me through the hard times.
So I continue to hope and bring awareness of, and connection between, the health of our soil, food and body as we share the abundance of this life — always there for us to see — if we only choose to do so.
And I thank that big ol’ sugar maple for always holding the hope.
Stacey Feiner lives in rural Blue River with her husband, Bill Meyer, and their three children. Together they farm My Fine Homestead, which offers nourishing food and handcrafted bodycare through CSA memberships, at the Spring Green Farmers Market and at The Office Market in Spring Green. More information available at www.myfinehomestead.com.
Driftless Terroir (ter-WAHR) is a series featuring guest voices celebrating the intersection of land and culture — the essence of life in the Driftless Area — with topics including art and architecture, farming and gardening, cooking and eating, fermenting and drinking, and more. To read past columns, see voiceoftherivervalley.com. To contribute to Driftless Terroir, e-mail email@example.com.