We walked out into the sugar bush, the heavy snow catching our footsteps. The thick icy crust that had formed a few days earlier was now melting into a boot-sucking slurry that demanded we step carefully. Greg carried the old hand-cranked brace, a gift from a friend whose uncle had been a cabinet maker.

I carried my favorite hammer to gently tap the spiles into the holes Greg drilled. I also carried a bag filled with assorted plastic jugs that I had been collecting for the past several weeks. We would hang these jugs on the spiles to gather the flowing maple sap. The spiles clinked together in my pocket as we made our way through the woods.

As we came to each maple tree, Greg would look for a good spile location, preferably over a large root, under a branch and on the south side of the tree. There, the sun would warm the tree and encourage the sap to flow up from the root to the branch overhead.

With nightfall, when the temperature again dropped back below freezing, the sap would once more flow back down to the root. Greg angled the brace slightly upward when he drilled into the trees, so the running sap would flow down and out and not puddle and freeze around the spile, cracking the sapwood that lay just behind the bark.

Greg gently tapped the end of each spile with the hammer, setting it firmly into the tree.

I used Greg’s penknife to cut a downward-hinged, spile-sized opening close to the neck of a jug and hung the jug securely on the spile. We then stepped back to watch as a drop of crystal- clear sap fell from the tip of the spile into the bottom of the jug.

The gentle plink, as the drop hit the bottom of the jug, sounded like sweet creek valley music, accompanied by the steady rush of the thawing water just behind us.

The sky was washed a chill gray over our heads, but I knew that winter was slowly thawing into spring. Even though the change of season was still weeks away, I could feel the stirring of a greener world just under the melting snow.

I also knew that this was late in the year to be tapping, but the sap had not started to flow any earlier, during the steady below- freezing temperatures of the past few weeks.

This was the time to tap, though I understood that once the temperatures stayed warm and the maple trees began to bud that the sap would turn sour, and maple season would be over.

I wondered how much sap we would be able to collect. This would likely be a short sugaring season, but no matter how much or how little sap we gathered, we would still boil this year’s sap down into one of the sweetest treats imaginable.

Boil-down day would not be far away.

My last jar of creek valley maple syrup is just about empty.

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.