Come morning it’s grey and blowing, active weather, the meteorologists call it. Anxiety has made for a restless sleep and I know that despite what I don’t know, I did something wrong. I jump up and begin getting dressed.
“What’s wrong?” says my wife. “Nothing,” I lie. “I am going to check my pails.”
I walk up to the main road along our long driveway that runs 200 metres from our home back in the bush. (Or “back the bush” as my Anishinaabe family likes to say). There are dried limbs and other debris along the way. My anxiety grows.
I know that I have made a commitment and now, I fear, it is one that I cannot maintain.
I don’t need to get to the trees to know that my gut feeling is correct. I can see a silver maple syrup pail lying almost on our driveway. It has been blown off the tree and across the ground.
The wind picks up and rolls the pail a little further to drive the point home.
I pass the last bit of shrubs and tall grasses and I can see most of the pails have fallen off the trees. Only the one I did with my granddaughter remains fast. All the others, that I must now acknowledge were done with haste and hubris, have not held.
I check the one pail and there is about a cup of sap inside. I take it off the hook and walk over to my in-laws who I know will be up have their morning coffee.
I share the results of the first night. The liquid is brown. That’s not right, it’s supposed to be clear. I’m not sure if that’s bark or rust. I tell them most of the pails have fallen off and the spiles that haven’t been pulled out are way too loose to be any good.
My mother in law smiles, my father in law asks if I drilled the holes up to the mark he had made. I tell him I did, but the trees were really hard and it was difficult to keep the drill straight. “So you made the holes too big,” he said, none too pleased. “That’s what, I figure,” I reply.
“What are you going to do?” My mother in law asks. “I don’t know,” I say, “try and fix it, I guess.”
I get another drill bit and head back to the trees with the vain and futile hope that somehow I can drill the holes smaller. How do you dig yourself out of a hole?
I’m thinking that with a smaller bit I can go a little deeper and then tap in some more and perhaps that will hold. It sort of works, I get some drip but there is no way the spile will be able to hold up the pail. I get a ball of bailing twine and tie up the pails into place. It takes more time than I have, but when I’m done it looks like it could work.
I head to work, happily deceived.
When I get back home I can see the pails are still on the tree and feel momentary relief. As I get closer I can see the spiles have fallen out, some are on the ground others in the pails. There are only a few drops of liquid in the pails.
I repeat the morning’s process. I don’t know what else to do. The strong winds make sure that I will have to repeat again in the evening. I tell myself that once the wind dies down, this can still work.
The weather breaks overnight and a warm front rolls in. I sleep hard, making up for the previous nights restlessness. When I wake up the sun is shining and I hear birds singing. The strong winds are a memory.
I feel so relieved. Now, that the winds are gone, it’s possible that everything is going to work out.
I walk up to the trees. Beautiful spring morning, I smile gratefully up to the sun. The sun's warming grace tells me it’s all going to be OK.
When I get to my trees, I see that things are far worse than I could have imagined.