First Drop of Spring!
by: Mike Lushington  

        It had snowed the day before. Now, the sun was high and dazzling in that way that makes March on the North Shore a time of pristine beauty. It was a day to snowshoe back to the Sugar Bush.

        Shortly after lunch, I gather my things together: tools and spouts for tapping, a requisite thermos of hot tea, a few other odds and ends, and my snowshoes. When I am ready to start out, I look around for Herbie; he is getting old now and often needs a specific invitation to come along on these expeditions. Mikey, our neighbour's dog, needs no such encouragement; even as I bend to strap on my snowshoes, she is bouncing and frolicking around, only too willing to join in the fun.

        I stop at the top of the hill behind the house to take a look out over the river. It is, indeed, a stunningly beautiful day, one of elemental contrasts. The sun is high and strong, but the river and land are still locked in ice and snow. The hills opposite brood silently as they have for months now, ever since the last strong winds of October stripped them of their fall finery. They have some time to wait yet before they can burst forth in spring growth and on this day, they seem to be aware of that. The gentle Northwest wind still had a bite of winter to it, so my pause is brief; after all, I am dressed for movement and I quickly become aware that it is not enough for prolonged scenery admiring.

        The previous day's snow had obscured, but not obliterated, my old tracks. It's heavy going so I settle into my "patience' stride. I call it this because I know that I am facing nearly an hour of fairly heavy going before I reach the Sugar bush. The dogs know it too, being old hands at this sort of hiking, so they very quickly settle in behind me, content to let me do the work on my snowshoes. Within a few minutes my mind slips into neutral and wanders off, this way and that, whenever it will. At the same time, I become aware of the small sounds around me: the swish of the snowshoes; Mikey's breathing right behind me; my own breathing, strong and even as I flow into the rhythm of steady, moderate work; a flock of chickadees going about their business; a grow celebrating the afternoon sunshine in the distance; and a pair of ravens barrel rolling down the sky.

        Up across the Old Strawberry Field and into the Birches, through them and the Spruce Field to the tracks, across them and my footbridge to the long Aspen slope to the Woodlot on top - nearly two kilometres of steady uphill climbing on snowshoe tracks that have sifted and filtered in with snow. On top, I pause to catch my breath. And then, on again, down the far slope of the woodlot to the power line, across it and up again, this time to the Sugar Bush which is almost at the far end of our property. Now I set out to find the old windfall spruce, under which I have stored my sapping cans, toboggan and collecting jugs from last spring.

        I have brought a shovel with me on this occasion, but, before I settle in to digging out my stuff, I pour my first cup of hot tea and take a long look around me. I don't know what it is about tea. I hardly ever drink it at home or anywhere else, but in the woods, it is exactly what I want. Sometimes I will carry a boiling can with me and make it right there on the spot from melted snow. With all the accumulated spruce needles and other stuff, that makes a tea beyond compare. Today though, as I mentioned above, I have brought a thermos with me. I don't have a lot of time today and I do want to get my stuff sorted out and perhaps a few trees to get the process going.

        I am surrounded by peace, quiet and a sense of timelessness. Trees, two dogs, a woodpecker gently tapping on an old snag, a gentle breeze far over head - that, and the sun, and the smell of hot tea. For the moment I cannot imagine needing anything more. I get to work. When I finish for the afternoon, I have begun another seasonal ritual - the first drops of sap are already running into my buckets - the first drops of sap and of spring, even here in the snow and chill of a beautiful day in March.

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