Squirrels Also Like The Sugar In The Sap. In Late Winter, Just Before The Sap Starts To Rise, They Bite Into The Trunks Of Sugar Maple Trees, Leaving Behind A Pair Of Small Parallel Grooves. The Squirrels Don’T Use The Sap Right Away, But Wait For It To Drip Down The Tree And Evaporate On The Bark, Leaving Behind A Sticky Trail. They Then Return And Lick The Sugar From The Bark.
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Although Tapping For Syrup Creates A Wound, It Is Less Harmful To A Tree Than Coring. The Tap Goes In Only A Few Inches, Not To The Center, And Responsible Syrup Producers Don’T Tap A Tree Until It Measures More Than Thirty Inches In Circumference, And Then Limit Themselves To Three Taps Per Tree. A Good-Sized Tree Will Yield Ten To Twenty Gallons Of Sap, Which Is Cooked Down To Half A Gallon Of Syrup. All The Sugar In The Sap Was Produced By The Leaves The Previous Summer And Stored In The Roots Over The Winter. In Late Winter And Early Spring, The Sugars Are Pushed Back Up To The Buds To Fuel The Rapid Expansion Of New Leaves And Flowers. We Are Borrowing From This Bank Of Solar Energy When We Sweeten Our Pancakes.
As Maple Sugar And Syrup Production Became More Popular, It Moved South And Became An Important Trade Item For Native Americans. By The 1880s, Though, Cane Sugar Had Become Cheaper Than Maple Sugar, And From That Time On Maple Syrup Became A Specialty Item, Just One Of Many Products Produced On New England Farms. The Intense But Short Production Period Became, More Than Anything, A Welcome Way To Bring Families And Tribes Together At The End Of A Long Winter.
So, Maybe Syrup Saved This Grove, But The Trees Had Earned Their Retirement. I Was Glad To Be In The Real Old Growth, Alone, Moving Slowly And Quietly Through The Ferny Forest. Then Something Slower And More Silent Than I Could Ever Hope To Be Caught My Attention. A Tiny Spotted Slug Was Moving Across The Damp Green Moss. As I Took The Time To Observe And Appreciate It, I Began To See Just What A Miracle It Is For Such A Creature To Survive. This Slug Was Completely At My Mercy; It Could Not Run Away, Or Sting Me, Or Even Retreat Into A Shell. Evolutionary Biologists Tell Us That Slugs Evolved From Snails; Eliminating The Shell Was Actually An Evolutionary Step Forward. Our Species Took A Similar Leap Toward Vulnerability When We Lost Our Fur.
This Slug’S Vulnerability Enabled Me To Begin To Understand What Its World Was Like. I Could Put My Face Just Inches From Its Face And Imagine A Slow Journey Through Cool Moss. From That Perspective, A Logging Truck Or Even The Bottom Of A Boot Would Appear Disastrous. I Was Becoming Quite Attached To The Little Slug And Wondered What Species It Was I Had Never Seen One Like It. One Can Memorize Numerous Features Of A Bird Or A Plant, And Check The Field Guides To Identify It Back At Home, But There’S Not Much To Memorize About A Slug. Identification Is Usually Made By Preserving A Specimen In Formaldehyde Or Alcohol And Bringing It To An Expert In A Laboratory Who Examines The Breathing Pore, The Genital Openings, And The Folds Of The Intestines. I Didn’T Have A Jar Of Preservative With Me, But Even If I Did, It Would Have Been Very Difficult For Me To Put My New Friend Into It.
I Later Asked A Park Employee About The Slug Species, But He Didn’T Know What It Was Either. There Are Thirty-Two Species Of Slugs In The United States. In The Pacific Northwest, A Large Yellow One, The Banana Slug, Is An Indicator Of Old-Growth Forests. We Have No Idea If There Is An Eastern Old-Growth- Indicator Slug Species. Perhaps It Is My Little Spotted Friend.
I Wish Barrows Had Left More Of Vermont’S Original Forest, But I Am Thankful He At Least Spared This Grove. If Slugs Can Be Thankful, I’M Sure They Are, Too.
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