The fifth moon of my solar 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, if not snow and blizzards. When late, early flowers like snowdrops and crocus are blooming. Most years it is possible to plant out hardy veggies for the first time during the Sap Moon, but in late years there may already be herbs and greens ready for harvesting in the garden. And this year, a middle-of-the-month Full Sap Moon, we’re just now throwing off winter. But 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 18 March 2022 at 3:20 in the morning. So by the time you read this, the moon will be just past the full. This year, we have a full Sap Moon right before the vernal equinox (on Sunday, 20 March at 11:33am). So there is a long time between the equinox and Easter this year, almost a full moon cycle. We get to have eggs and rabbits and chocolate until (at least) 17 April, and then it’s only a couple weeks until May Day ushers in summer.
But the season of mid-spring is lasting a long time. Which is good because we’ve hardly had any spring weather yet — it may prove to be a rather abrupt transition from winter to summer this year with very little spring at all. Last week it was still in single digits; this week we’re hitting mid-60s (°F). There are joggers out in shirt sleeves this morning. The snow is melting in this warm snap. With luck, perhaps it will prove more than a snap. At the least, I’m hoping the ice inside my garage melts. (Yes, inside… it’s a nightmare…) But I have not planted anything. I’ve only just seen soil for the first time this year in the last week, and much of it is still frozen fairly solid under a top half-inch or so of pooling meltwater and mud. There is also much repair work needed to clean up the pile of sand, rubble and salted muck the Department of Public Works dumped on my raised beds. Pretty sure that was accidental, but… the beds are hardly raised at the moment.
But the birds are telling me it’s time to get down to the business of reproduction. Every morning. I have a hedge of Eastern red cedars around the back of the house, enclosing a very small back yard. My bedroom is on the back of the house and about level with the tree tops. So I have a fantastic observation deck for birding. I can sit here in bed and watch them argue property rights and pecking orders. No binoculars needed!
Like my last home, I have a perpetually irate Carolina wren claiming a space under the eaves on the back porch — which apparently to him means the entire property. The crows seem to think he’s adorable and do things, I think, just to rile him up and then sit back and laugh from the top of the boxelder maple. But the wren has a lovely voice, so I try not to think about what he’s saying and just enjoy the song.
The star of my back yard bird chorus is a slender song sparrow. He is all brown and white stripes and not particularly showy in the shadow and light of the cedars. But his burbling song is lovely, all flowery meadows and sunny warmth in spring breezes. He wakes before it is properly light and sings until the sun has crested the mountain. I hope he is successful in finding a mate and raising a family. I would love to wake to this song every spring morning for the rest of my life.
I am not sure how sugaring season is going this year. From the pictures in the local newspaper, it seems there is boiling happening here and there. But up until a week or so ago, it was so cold during the daylight hours that I doubt much could flow. And now, being in a rush to make up for lost spring moons, there are buds swelling on the lilacs and apple trees around my house. So if the weather stays warm, it won’t be too long before the sap turns bitter. Still, we’ll see. Maple syrup always seems to happen somehow!
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