Wednesday, January 25, 2017 3:18 PM
A warm wind is blowing up the creek valley and playing with the wind chimes on the cabin’s front porch. It is early afternoon, and there is so much that I could be doing, but the gentle voice of the chimes seems to hold me captive, at least for now. I reflect on the moment.
Without a doubt, it is amazingly warm for late January. When I pass by folks uptown, they exclaim how wonderful the winter weather has been. There has been no need to run up high heating bills or cut more wood for the stove. They have not had to bundle up in multiple layers before venturing outside.
They smile to say the weather could stay just like this until spring, and that would be just fine with them. I nod and agree, and keep my thoughts to myself. For you see, it has been so warm that my honeybees have broken their winter cluster. They have been out flying, foraging and looking for food, but there is none to be found. If I had my druthers, the weather would be well below freezing, and they would stay deep inside their hives, barely moving, hardly using any energy at all and conserving their winter honey stores. But with the warm weather temperatures they are out and about, flying thither and yon, burning up their precious energy and eating their dwindling winter stores. I worry.
And then, just yesterday, I noticed that the daylily shoots are peeking their neon green tips up through the warm mud. I walked down to the sugar bush beside the creek so I could check on the maple trees. I rolled the buds between my fingers. They still felt tight and I was thankful, because once the buds begin to swell, the sap does not run clear and the resulting boiled-down syrup has a distinctly off flavor. The warm breeze blew against my face. Even though the maples had not shown signs of budding, I still felt a shimmer of concern. I tried to count how many below-freezing days we have had so far this winter. I am fearful that this warm winter weather will keep the maples’ sap from settling below ground in their roots. It is below ground, in the trees’ roots, where the sap absorbs the maple’s famed sugar, sugar that was produced by the process of photosynthesis the summer before.
On below-freezing days, the maples keep their sap below ground in their roots, where it is safe from turning to ice and so cannot expand and split the tree’s living wood. And it is down in the roots, over the winter months, where the sap absorbs the photosynthesized sucrose and so becomes so famously sweet. But if the winter weather stays too warm, and the sap does not settle for long in the roots, it will simply not sweeten.
And so I worry.
On my last trip uptown, I ran into a fellow beekeeper and maple sugarer. We both commented on the warmth of the day. He had already lost one of his colonies of bees to starvation and he had noticed a dandelion growing in his yard. As we parted, we agreed that we were among a very few who fervently hoped for the temperatures to not only plummet, but to remain plummeted for a while. We walked away, wryly smiling with our shared camaraderie of wishful thinking.
With certainty I do realize that there are some things I simply cannot change. The winter weather will be what it will be, but I also suppose that I really should get up off the cabin’s front porch and go set a few bee feeders filled with honey out in the orchard. And as for the maples? I will just wait, and watch, and for the moment, enjoy listening to the wind chimes.
Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.