Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tapped (Pt. 4 - Conclusion)

I am a Sundancer. I have prayed at the tree. I have made an offering of my flesh. If it were not for the tree I would have gone mad. There was a point in my life in which I had become so overwhelmed with what I saw and the reality of it all.

We had lost everything. It was all gone and there was nothing that could be done. Our language, our culture, our ceremonies, our values, our stories, our way of life have all faded into history. Crushed with bureaucracy, lies and willfully racist or willfully blind Canadian public.

I was living in Toronto at the time and I realized that I had not touched the earth for days. I would leave my tiny rented room and I would walk on the sidewalk to the Subway station and head to Queen St. W. I had made myself alien to the earth. A great confusion settled. Sadness. Anger. Madness.

I dreamed I was walking down Queen Street on a glorious day and the street is lively but not too full. I am crying like a lost child. Sobbing. I am overcome by this feeling of hopelessness and I can hide it from the world no longer. I stumble down the street in tears of outrage and no one could care on a glorious day and the street is lively but not too full.

In the next moment, I am walking in a forest almost immediately my burden has been lifted. I come to a large poplar tree and it begins to speak to me. It tells me that nothing has been lost, "We remember everything. Whatever you need to know just come to us and ask."

I am renewed by this dream. The next day on my walk to work. I acknowledge all the trees on the street stopping to offer tobacco at some and hugging others.

I did not know how to take the words of the tree spirit and put them into practice in my life. I did not know how the tree was supposed to teach me the language or long lost cultural practices. All I knew is that I believed the answer to be true and if I were not the one who could crack the code the answer was still there for others. This was enough to carry me forward.

It would be many years later that I would see the tree that spoke to me when I attended my first Sundance.

It was the spring following my fourth and final year as a Sundancer that I had set upon the notion of tapping Maple trees and making Maple Syrup. Despite my dreams and teachings and all the things I had learned over the past two decades and despite my sincere offering at the beginning of the process I cannot escape the realization that I had committed a sin.

I have punctured holes in four Maple trees that were three quarters of a century old and all their sap is bleeding out onto the ground.

This happened because I just start doing things for me and it is all because of me that this is happening and all the focus becomes internal and disrespectful. My ego pushes more forward and I must be right. I cannot be wrong.

I should have taken more time. I should have asked more questions. I should have been more respectful. I shouldn't have drilled so many holes. That was the thing. That was what was wasteful. I should have stopped at one.


Over the first four days, I am able to collect enough sap to have my first boil and I fill two large stainless steel pots about three quarters full, maybe 25 liters in total.

I begin the boil at lunch break and stoke the fire after work, maintaining a steady steam but not boiling. I talk to my father in law Fred about my problem with the steel spigots and how most of the sap is being wasted especially now that the weather has hit the pattern for peak production.

I don't tell him this weight I feel; but I don't know if it would have made a difference. He did not grow up in a world where waste was tolerated.

He recalls his grandmother sending him out to collect elderberry vines to make their own spigots. He remembered elderberry being on the property some years ago, but hadn't seen any for a while. He suggested I try Sumac since it had a cork like centre similar to the elderberry vine.

We are blessed to have sumac all around our yard. This is a beautiful plant, it's called a tree but it's more in between. It grows to about 10 feet and it has has long lance shaped leaves that hold bright burgundy seed cones that slash red across the summer green.

This time of year the leaves are gone and the seed cones have dulled to a darker purple but it is easy enough to find. The sumac is always looking for attention.

The sumac like the dandelion grew in my esteem as I tried to remove it from my garden. It's extensive and aggressive roots snake out just inches below the surface and new plants can begin anywhere along the chain.

I had to admit that despite the troubles it caused, it was a hardy as well as beautiful plant and the truth was it would one day take that garden back from me with no bad feelings.

I also knew that the fruit of the sumac, that blood purple cone of seeds, was edible. I had come across this fact in a survival guide I had perused and had put theory to the test soon after. Although slightly bitter and with a fuzzy texture that is nowhere near pleasant; it is not entirely unappetizing. I could imagine with the proper nutritional engineering the taste could become quite acceptable and even delectable.

I once again made my offering of tobacco. I then used a tree snips and cut down one sumac about four feet high and what I guessed to be the proper circumference. I then snip into five inch lengths.

I use a large screw driver and push a hole through each one with relative ease.

I take my hand made spigots to the trees and the one closest to the road. The one that got the first sun of the day and the best sun of the day and wore the hole that had leaked barrels of sap for all the world to see.

I removed the wasteful steel spigot with an easy twist and put it in my pocket. It was obvious that my sumac spigot was too large for the hole, but that was good, you can't cut things bigger.

I started to tap the spigot in. The bark and secondary layers of the sumac peeled back creating an airtight seal. When I hit the right depth, liquid came quickly out of the end of the tube. I hang a pail on the notch carved into the spigot and it collects at an incredible rate. The drip, drip, drip is music. It was the old way. It is a beautiful thing.

That night my wife and I boiled the Maple sap down to maple syrup. We got about two cups. It was divine. Over the next ten days, I was boiling every waking hour and getting about one quart a day. Miraculous. A taste beyond compare.

I research Maple Syrup and am amazed at its superfood qualities with trace nutrients, metals and minerals that are quite beneficial to human beings but can be found together in no other natural source.

As a family we began to drink the sap and there was always a pot of maple sap tea on the fire. There were numerous health benefits associated with the drinking of the sap. It is cleansing and rejuvenating and an absolute boost for a time of year when the winter time blues have threatened to set up permanent residence.

I discover Maple trees growing along our driveway on both sides. Despite the fact that on one side the black walnut trees have choked out everything else and on the other side the swamp has drowned  or is drowning all new trees. If we didn't make this driveway, there would be no Maple Trees here. The idea washes over me and it is my belief that the reason these things happen is that the Creator wants us to be happy. It is why medicine is sweet and berries are bright.

My grand children observe this whole process. I show them the marks on the tree where Grandma's Grandma tapped the same tree over 50 years ago. In their memory they will know that their family has always tapped these trees.

The memories of the great grandparents direct the grandfather who passes the traditional knowledge onto grandchildren and connects six generations in a moment.

This was part of the answer.