It’s been a long winter, I think we can all agree on this. I don’t know about you, but I am so ready for spring. I have taken to wearing light-weight short sleeves, solid bright colors, floral prints. Anything suited for warmer days. I don’t care if I’m cold or look ridiculous. All I know is I have to do something to will spring into existence, and when I say “spring,” I mean daytime temperatures regularly above 50 degrees. With some sunshine. Please.
I’m having these feelings and other adults I speak with are having them too. Let’s face it winter, we are done with you! Move along now, it’s time to make way for green grass and flowering bulbs, children running around the playground and groups of kids playing touch football in the circle in front of our school.
I feel very strongly about this. And I’m beginning to see that my students are right there with me as signs of cabin fever syndrome hit an all-time high. I’m noticing more issues in the greenhouse between students. More bickering, less patience with each other. I’m pretty good at self-regulation and inside I feel like I’m stuck on one of those wheels that mice run on. Or like that movie Groundhog Day. When is the weather going to turn? When is the season going to change? When are we going to be able to return to the garden? How do children with an inability to control their impulses, regulate their mood or deal with issues related to anxiety react to this extended winter season? IT IS HARD, VERY HARD.
Thankfully, maple sugaring has arrived, albeit slowly and not with a great deal of sap, due to the unseasonably cold weather. There has been just enough sap, however, for us to take a much needed break from the confines of the greenhouse, and step outside our campus, via a short ride down the road to Boni-Bel (Green Chimneys’ organic farm and country store) to experience the maple sugaring process. Not only is the locale a much needed change for my students, but another voice, other than my own, is as much a needed change for them too. And for me, the opportunity to take a bit of the backseat and not be the floor show is a welcome shift for my own inner well-being.
Our sugar maker Charlie has a lifetime of gardening experience and offers my classes a 40-minute “Maple Sugar Tour.” Starting out by the giant sugar maple near the entrance to Boni-Bel, Charlie breaks the ice with a few jokes which eases the students and lets them know this is going to be fun. No pressure. He shows the students the tapped tree and teaches (or quizzes, depending on the age) them about how sap is made and collected. We enjoy fresh sap from the tree: a cool, refreshing, mineral-rich, slightly sweet drink. Smiles begin to emerge and are contagious.
As we move inside the sugar shack, the students are able to see exactly what happens to the sap once it flows into the evaporator from the outside storage tank. Older students are offered the opportunity to tend the fire, and the smoke produced from the wood imparts a slightly smokey scent to the air. They warm their hands and legs by the fire. We are all mesmerized as the stoked fire spurs sap to boil, moving from channel to channel, getting incrementally darker as the water is evaporated out of it, leaving behind a golden, thick sweet liquid.
Community is being built, one shared moment at a time. The tensions that have been rising (likely from cabin fever), begin to melt into the foundation of what will turn these somewhat random groups of students into peers and often friends. You have to remember, our students travel to us from towns throughout New York state and parts of Connecticut. They haven’t grown up together, they haven’t played at the same parks or on the same teams. Experiences like this help to close the distance between students, it gives them a shared experience to create new bonds with the people they now share a classroom with.
By the time we have seen all the ins and outs of boiling and bottling syrup, it is time to sit down and taste the stuff. Everyone is pretty jovial, including myself, knowing that a waffle with freshly made syrup is only a heartbeat away. After the last morsel of waffle has been consumed, we complete our trifecta of tasting with maple tea. This is my personal favorite: maple tea is somewhere about midway between sap and syrup. Charlie ladles out hot, lightly golden, sweet liquid from the boiler, and we let it absorb any unused drops of syrup from the bottom of our cup, sit at the picnic table (hopefully with the sun shining) and enjoy a laugh together. The metaphoric ice totally broken and everyone left to just be…themselves.