Ed’s Corner

The Fifth Season

Well, we all know we have winter, spring, summer and fall, but did you know there
is a fifth season? It’s Sugaring Time. Coming right between winter and spring, it can last for 2 weeks or close to two months.

It’s all dependent on the weather. Cold nights and warmer days are what’s needed for the buckets on our maple trees to fill with the clear, sweet liquid we call ‘sap’. We then boil the sap until it turns into that amber aristocrat of all sweets – maple syrup!

I hope you can make one of the two maple sugaring programs we will be offering this Saturday, February 24th. The purpose of the program is to give you enough information to identify a maple tree, show you how to ‘tap’ it, how to collect the sap, and how to boil it down to maple syrup. Each family will take home a sheet of instructions and your very own spout.

Sugaring is a great family activity – everyone can get involved in some way and the syrup you’ll make will be the best syrup you’ve ever tasted in your life!

Looking forward to seeing you as we celebrate our fifth season.

Maple Sugaring at The Nature Place

On a particularly frigid March 4th we tapped maple trees during two sugaring programs. While the cold kept the usual hordes at bay, many brave maple fans came out to learn all about how to tap trees, collect and boil sap, and to enjoy thick, sweet syrup over crushed ice, accompanied by a dill pickle.

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Maple Water

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, tells us a tale of Maple Water in the mountains and gratitude for Mother Earth.

We always hated to see the last of winter. Along with snow holidays off from school, the seasonal blanket of white turned the woodlands into an Artic adventure. Come evening, the very earth itself seemed to be illuminated with a fairy landscape that hinted at nature’s mystery. There were so many stories to follow in the tracks of wildlife that even the sleeping forest was awake with animal speak. But as March moved us toward April, the snow started to melt, and the creeks ran high, and the early buds snuck out from their tiny stalks. Dainty white Snow Drops and bright purple crocuses suddenly appeared even before the last snow fell. The Black Capped Chickadee changed his sweet mournful two notes that seemed to tell us “Spring Soon,” to an excited four note celebration “Spring is Com-ing!”. My friends and I saddened as winter slipped away. But then! There was Jeff Masters’ annual tasting of Maple Water! This was the official recognition that winter was on its last legs.

We followed Jeff up a trail to one of his favorite sugar maples. He somehow moved fast, but looked like he was walking slowly. His was a long-ambled stride that seemed easy and relaxed, but actually moved along pretty fast. My uncle Mal used to describe Jeff’s walking style as ‘country’ or ‘mountaineer’ walking. He said my dad walked that way and that I would too eventually. Cindy Maloney was behind me and hers was a focused, purposeful walking style, while Ricky Cramshaw followed us with his easy-going wander that meandered more than directed. As for me, I couldn’t figure out how I walked, seeing as how I couldn’t see myself from a distance, but I once saw a home movie in which me as a littler kid walked by. I was startled at seeing how I looked and refused to look at it a second time. I think it scared me.

We got to the top of the small ridge and crossed over to the southern side where the winter sun had turned the snow pack into mush. We reached Jeff’s favorite tree. He hunkered down and with his brace and bit tool, he pressed the long curly metal bit against a good spot in the tree bark and began to drill. He cranked the open handle around many times until he got deep enough into the tree. Then he removed the drill bit and took out a small metal nozzle, which he pounded into the hole in the tree with a hammer. Almost immediately, drips of sap came down the open nozzle and Jeff hung his metal bucket on the nozzle. We all looked in and watched as the tree let out one drop after another. “Plunk! Plunk! Plunk!”. The sound spoke out to us. Jeff stood back and said, “Come evening, when the temperature drops, it will slow down. Then, as long as its real cold tonight and then warm tomorrow, it will pick up again.” We followed him to a second tree where a bucket was already hanging. Here, he took out four little tin cups from his pack. This bucket was more than half full and Jeff easily dipped the cups into the bucket and gave us each a half cup of Maple Sap.

maple bucket

Sugaring bucket hanging from a maple tree

He said, “Now don’t drink it just yet. We gotta thank the earth mother for sharing with us.”

Ricky quickly said, “Thank you, Earth Mother!”

Jeff said, “Look up to the sky and thank Creator.”

We did this.

He then said, “Look down to the earth and thank the ancestors.”

We did.

He then said, “Thank you Earth Mother for all you share with us.”

I said, in this moment, “Amen.”

Cindy said, “Amen? What do you think? We’re praying?”

Before I could answer Jeff said, “Well, yes we are.”

We all sipped our sap. It’s Maple Water actually. If you boil it down, 40 quarts of this Maple Water will yield one quart of maple syrup—after most of the water has been boiled out of it. Jeff told us that the elders used to gather the maple water and let it freeze, then remove the ice on top, which was another way to extract the water part. The sugar would settle at the bottom, and would not freeze with the water. It took a lot of refreezing to get down to a sweet syrup.

boiling sap

Maple water boiling over a fire

The maple water tasted just a bit like maple syrup but was cool and delicious to wash across your tongue and very rewarding to swallow. This sweet drink was like a promise from winter that things would be good when spring came. Nature would take care of us now that we survived a long, cold winter. Ricky looked at the grand, grey maple that reached out over our heads and he said, “So when you tap the maple water, does it all come down from way up there?”

Jeff smiled and said, “The tree gathers up water from the ground and even from the leaves. When the maple water gets made, it moves through the tree just like your blood moves through you. It moves up and down throughout the tree.”

Cindy asked, “Does the tree have a heart?”

Jeff looked at her and grinned, “You mean does a heart in the tree move sap like our heart moves our blood around inside of us?”

She said, “Well, yeah I guess, but I also mean, is it a living thing like us?”

Jeff put his open palm on the tree and said, “Well no, it does not have a heart like we have to pump our blood around. The whole tree helps in moving the maple water just by the way the tree breaths.”

Ricky shouted, “Trees breathe?”

“Yup and it is a living thing, not just like us, but kind of like us. It needs air and water and food, too.”

Ricky observed, “Well this tree has been eating well, because this maple water is tasty!”

Jeff looked at me and said, “You ain’t said much. What do you think of our maple water this year?”

“Good” I said, and then added, “Amen.”

Ed’s Corner

A Miracle Once More

When we think of a miracle, we usually think of something that happens once. In fact, that may be one reason we consider ‘it’ to be a miracle, because it is so rare. The miracle I am thinking about happens yearly, just about now, as nights are still cold but daytime temperatures inch upward into the upper thirties and forties. The indigenous people knew about this miracle well before the arrival of the first colonists.

Throughout history, people have set out on pilgrimages that would lead them to a miracle. The Nature Place will lead you on a sort of pilgrimage on Saturday, March 4th, when we offer our Maple Sugaring program. It is our most popular program throughout the year. Perhaps everyone is anxious to see the miracle.

We all gather around the sugar maple tree, making sure the little ones are in front, with adults standing behind. Everyone seems to be quietly excited, almost holding their breath.

Drilling the Hole

I put drill to tree and begin to turn it. The first wood shavings to come out of the tree are very dark. Then, as the drill goes deeper, the shavings become lighter in color. These shaving are from the sapwood. We might then see the bark directly below the drill-hole begin to get wet. A slight cheer erupts from the crowd. I take the drill out, gently hammer in a metal spout (technically a “spile”) and we see the first drop of sap run down the spout, hesitate at the edge, and then fall to the ground. A big cheer erupts from the crowd! This is the miracle we have come to see: a drop of clear, cold, slightly sweet ‘water’ coming out of a tree that from all outward appearances looks dead.

How does this clear drop that looks like pure water get inside a tree and then come out when your drill makes an outlet for it? Isn’t it dirty coming from inside a tree? Why does it taste a little sweet? Is it OK to taste it right from the spout? Definitely!

Sweet, clear water from a tree. It always feels like a miracle to me. One that I can depend on seeing once a year.

Tasting Sap 1

Tasting Sap 2

In the last “Dirt” I suggested to take a Fake Break, to get away from the oftentimes overwhelming news that seems to bombard us every day. To go out into close-by nature to take in and be part of what is real, what is grounding. Tapping your own maple tree, boiling the sap into syrup and learning so much more by coming to our March 4th sugaring program, will take you to places that are very real and will help you reforge connections with the natural world – a world we have come from and are part of, although at times we may feel disconnected and disenchanted.

I hope to see you at our Sugaring program. Be part of this miracle with us.


Click here for more information our March 4th Sugaring Program!


Maple Sugaring & Open House This Saturday, March 5th

Join The Nature Place for our annual maple sugaring program, it’s surely our sweetest event!

This program is happening twice on Saturday, once from 11 am – Noon, and then again from 2 – 3 pm.

We’ll learn all about maple sugaring, tap trees, boil sap over a fire, and taste syrup over crushed ice, accompanied by a dill pickle! Participants will take home their own spouts and simple, clear instructions for making your own maple syrup at home.

Between programs you can learn more about The Nature Place Day Camp during our open house, any time between Noon and 2 pm.

138044 CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

138044 CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

Ed’s Corner

A short while ago, right after the first week of February, I heard from others that they saw blooming(!), on our campus both crocus and snowdrop flowers.

Someone else shared they saw a flock of robins. Now granted, the robin flock could have been around all winter, but still, my first thought upon hearing this news was: I don’t feel that winter has even begun. Do you have a similar feeling? (Although this past weekend gave us a cold, seasonal jolt).


And for the last three weeks I have seen sapcicles hanging from branches and trunks of the maple trees lining the road in my neighborhood, a definite sign that the sap is moving – flowing – inside the maples! Cold nights and warmer days provide the stimulus for the sap to move, leaking out on warm days from small cuts in the bark or from fresh woodpecker holes or from branches where squirrels have chewed off the buds. This leaking sap then freezes into a sap icicle (sapcicle) during the night when it is colder and the sap stops dripping.

So what does all this mean for the upcoming maple sugaring season?! Some have already tapped a tree or two, and report that the sap is flowing freely. Will this be an early sugaring season? It sure looks like it – I just read last night that Adirondack sugaring operations have begun tapping, collecting and boiling – more than a month earlier than usual. Traditionally, we tap our trees sometime between the third week of February and the second week of March. But with the recent cold (or ‘normal’ winter) temperatures we’ve had, and then the sudden warming of weather, the time to tap is now!

138044 CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

Ed and Daniel thinking, “Oh, please let the sap drip!” CLIFFSIDE PARK, NJ MAPLE SUGARING DEMONSTARTION 2-25-15 Ed and Daniel Bieber of The Nature Place Day Camp demonstrated maple sugaring at the Cliffside Park Public Library on Feb. 25, 2015. KRYSTI SABINS/FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

If you are a backyard tapper and have everything you need, go for it. Tap – if you haven’t already – your tree(s) now that the day time temperatures are more or less above freezing, and the night time temperatures below that mark.

And if you are waiting until March 5th (our maple sugaring programs!) to become a backyard maple syrup maker, it will be fine to tap at that time, also. Maybe you would have missed the beginning of the season, but don’t worry, there is plenty to go around.

Ed’s Corner

Looking for Maples in Cliffside Park

Quick. What state, city, town or geographic region do you immediately think of if someone (like me, right now) says to you “Maple Syrup”?

I’ll bet not many of you said “Cliffside Park, New Jersey”, four miles from the George Washington Bridge.
Maples through a glass, darkly

Maples through a glass, darkly

For the last three years we have been going out to libraries in the metro area to present our Maple Sugaring program. Some of the program is indoors, learning about the history of making maple syrup and the biology of maple trees. It’s interesting to learn about those kinds of things but the most important, critical part of the program is going outdoors and tapping a real maple tree. So, this means we have to scout out the library grounds before the library can even advertise the event. No maple, no program.

On one recent scouting mission to the Cliffside Park Public Library I met the animated, welcoming librarian who had contacted us and we both went outside looking. We first crossed the street in front of the library to a very tiny park, surrounded on all sides by roads, but beautiful. And trees we found!: Sugar Maple, Silver Maple, Norway Maple. And we knew that the temperature was warm enough for the sap to be flowing/moving  inside at least the Silver Maple. How? Looking to the top of this tree we found two of the cutest squirrels, sitting most comfortably on different thin branches, ignoring us, leisurely licking and sucking the sap from places where they had chewed off the buds or where there may already have been a cut or wound. As we watched them we looked up beyond the tree tops and saw a beautiful rainbow in the sky! A better ‘sign’ one could not wish for.

The good news – yes, there are maple trees. the bad news – they are in a public park. And we want to stay away from political entanglements. Although the promise of maple syrup could sweeten any town council member’s heart – and palate.

So to the back of the library we went and found, on library property, a large Norway Maple. The Sugar Maple tree gives the sweetest sap (thus its name) but the Norway Maple will do just fine. This tree, located behind the library, also will keep the bucket on the tree away more from the public eye. We will arrange with the librarian’s help to designate some local families to keep an eye on the bucket, gather the sap, boil it down to syrup at home. Then at the end of Maple time when the sap stops dripping, to remove the spout from the tree, do nothing to the hole, it will heal by itself.


Winter weather shapes
In my winter outings I am consistently surprised by just looking at what’s in front of me. What seems like a lot of white snow, salt, and ice at first glance can provide just as rich a template for discovery as a green summer’s day.

This bear reflects in a hand-held mirror while stepping on to her circus ball

This bear reflects in a hand-held mirror while stepping onto her circus ball


This hungry sock puppet eats a meatball

This hungry sock puppet eats a meatball

Ed’s Corner

Why I tap maple trees
In about a month from the time you receive this Dirt – around mid-February – we will begin tapping our maple trees. Since the first of the year we have received catalogs from some of the sugaring supply companies. A definite reminder that we need to order buckets and spouts.
Ed next to a magnificent maple

Ed next to a magnificent maple

Since I came to Rockland County in 1970 I have always been involved with maple sugaring in some way or another. If I didn’t tap trees, collect the sap and boil it down into syrup during this time (approximately mid-February until the end of March), I would definitely feel something was missing.

Just this morning I made French toast (from good Challah) and we used our home-made maple syrup! Last year was a very good maple season and we made enough to last until this upcoming season. Not that it would be just the syrup I miss, but maybe more importantly, the tradition, the ritual, and the feeling that I am connected to nature’s yearly rhythm. Perhaps sugaring helps me set or become aware of my own biological clock, and that I am part of something bigger.
If one looks at a maple  tree now it can be hard to imagine all the activity that will soon be happening around it and in it. The sap we collect this year from a tree was made last growing season. Some of the water part of the sap might be from a late afternoon thunderstorm last July 27th. The sugar in the sap, which accounts for its sweetness, was made by all the green leaves photosynthesizing – making sugar from sunlight, air and water – all season long. The more leaves on a maple, the sweeter the sap, theoritically. 
I look at a maple tree at this time of year and imagine if it could talk, would it tell me about its life during each season, how each leaf was busy each day, how it feels when the buds finally open,  how many times has it been tapped, and just how and where inside itself is the sap stored all winter? And as the day-times become warmer, and sugaring time comes upon us, how is that sap moving up/down/sideways within the tree’s trunks, roots and branches? 
The best news:  you, too, can begin to make sugaring time a tradition at home. Come to one of our sugaring programs and we’ll start you on your way. It is a delicious journey!