It’s the first small thud that makes my chest supernova. The steady thump as each drop of sap hits the bottom of the bucket. Like a heartbeat. And for a moment I am in a conversation with an old friend whose only common language is how we both feel when the sun warms our skin. Spring is coming. Can you hear it?
One of the first maples I ever tapped wept from the poorly placed spile I jammed into its side. The tree, the largest on the hillside, forked in two early on and the trunk accommodated its need to sprawl ever skyward. My electric drill could not pierce the thick bark. I fought the tree and eventually amber, then almond colored curls fell from the drill bit. After hammering the tap in place I watched sap stain the trunk like tears.
This year is different. I’m better at tapping trees. Faster. Gentler. I place my hand on the trees and search the bark for evidence of past scarring. And then I talk to them. I thank the trees for stealing their sap. I ask if this spot is okay to puncture. And then I wait for something to change.
This year I picked a day it wasn’t so bitter cold. I waited for a morning when the sun made the snow glitter and I could handle metal without gloves and not swear. While setting the taps, I listened to the woodpeckers knocking their brains out somewhere in the woods beyond. My eye wandered to a firefly tucked between the bark. I always thought the adult fireflies died after mating and laying their eggs underground. But here one was. Dormant or dead I am not certain. I noted its location and reached in the bucket for my rubber mallet. Once the spout and bucket were fastened I looked for the firefly but it was gone.
Later I learn there is a species of northeastern firefly that survives the winter by nestling between the hollows of the bark. But they are fireflies in the name only. The beetles don’t flash. Perhaps they gave up their light in exchange for more time. Even if sometimes it’s a little too dark.
Back inside I hang up my coat and stack my boots by the door. I scan the family room and see nothing but children’s toys littering the carpet. My blood pressure surges.
Sometimes I find myself slamming the kitchen drawers out of frustration. There is always a Lego creation stashed in some bowl so a brother won’t find it, a sock stuffed in between the couch cushions and forgotten. Railroad tracks routinely cut off the pathway to my desk and I often find Matchbox cars parked under my pillow. I try to remind myself that one day I will be sad when I reach back and find nothing there.
But it’s the glinting that gives me pause. A red marble stalled in a wooden groove under my bed. I get down on my hands and knees and study it. I ignore the dust bunnies gathered nearby. The balled up black sock that now appears gray it’s so dusty. I focus on this little orb that seems to glow in the room’s lone sun patch. It’s in these rare moments, in the right light, when the mess is all kind of beautiful.