The Sap Moon

The fifth moon of the year is the Sap Moon. It is new between 24 February and 24 March, full between 10 March and 7 April. This is a period of rapid change. The Sap Moon rarely sees the same weather from year to year. When it’s early in the solar calendar, this month is dominated by mud and melt. When late, early flowers are blooming. Most years it is possible to plant out for the first time during the Sap Moon, but in late years there may already be peas and greens ready for harvesting in the garden. There is always maple syrup in the north, and the signs of running sap in the trees are everywhere — swelling buds, catkins, red squirrels on sugar highs. It’s a very exciting time.

This year the Sap Moon is full on 28 March 2021, Palm Sunday. This is the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Both Passover and Easter are tied to this moon, Passover beginning on the night before the full moon (27 March), Easter the first Sunday following this moon (4 April). This year the full Sap Moon falls near the end of its range, however we haven’t seen much spring weather in New England yet. A few afternoons have been warm, but there is still snow on the back deck and the ground still freezes at night. Snow is predicted for the weekend. So I’ve not planted anything yet, and we’ve only just seen a few crocuses blooming. However, the birds are busy and the sap is overflowing the collection tubs. It’s a protracted transition from winter to summer this year.

A Full Moon Tale for the Sap Moon

It is flowing.

The lethargy burned away in the growing light. The ice receded from the brook and darting silver minnows sparkled in the waters instead. Birds called from the wind-tossed pines, intent on home-making. Bold bloodroot and the first shy buttercups opened white and purple faces to the dawn. Time for the awakening.

She rambled from tree to tree with her pail. Third time for the day. Perfect sap weather, bright sun warming the buds, then an overnight plunge back into winter. But it was ending, she could tell. The buds were opening. Soon there would be peepers chorusing in the bogs. No sap after the frogs sing. She would collect as much as she could today. Maybe tomorrow. After that, maybe not.

The village had collected enough. They would begin boiling it down at the full moon. She guessed there would be plenty of sugar for her people and still many more boxes to trade. She hoped the coastal people came with their seal pelts. She needed to make a new pair of leg coverings for each of the twins. And her winter robe was worn so thin it might be good as a storage bag if she stitched it shut, but it did not do much to keep the cold off her shoulders. A cake or two of sugar would mean a warmer winter.

She brought her pail back to the village and poured it into the barrel. Then she went back out to look over her snares. As the sap flow slowed, planting season approached. She’d laid out traps around the clearing, hoping to irritate the garden marauders and maybe catch something good for the pot with the same snare. She’d brought in a few rabbits, a porcupine and a very skinny woodchuck. In the lean spring months, none of them were good eating, but meat was meat. And not a great deal of effort to get it either. She thought there were fewer tracks around the clearing now. Perhaps they’d leave the seedlings alone. Still, the twins would be put on watch again this year. They were irritating to everybody, even the crows kept their distance.

Nothing in the traps, but a doe and twin fauns walked through the clearing while she was checking. That would need to be fixed. Deer would eat through the whole garden. She didn’t like hurting infants, but she couldn’t let them learn to eat from the village garden either. They’d been using this plot too long, she supposed. It was time to move on and let the birches and maples return. But they’d make do for one more season. Maybe put more children out here. 

She returned to her village and picked up the grinder. She had some dried marsh roots that she pounded together with acorns and the last of the woodchuck meat. She worked the mash into round cakes and set them to cook on slate stones by the fire. As the meal cooked, she absentmindedly wove the marsh grasses into sunshades for the twins. Her fingers knew the motions; she could think on the deer problem.

Perhaps she should have the twins gather all the hunter scat they could find. They did seem to have a talent for finding it. Not always with intention. But there was that cat prowling around the maple wood over the winter. Deer hated that smell. Well, who wouldn’t? She hated the smell also. Her boys didn’t seem to care. They came home from adventures reeking more often than not. 

That would have to do for now. After the sugar boil, she would start looking for a new place to garden. 

©Elizabeth Anker 2021