Tap and Bog

0F227017-3A32-47F9-BCA3-AD63D40D16FCA beautiful mid-March Saturday was a weekend calling to get the first taste of spring. In northern Minnesota, spring tastes like maple.

I’ve seen pictures and videos of people tapping trees with cordless electric power drills. To me, that’s an atrocity. There’s only one way to correctly and artfully tap a tree, and that’s with a hand-powered bit brace.

With over a foot of snow still on the ground, I navigated the woods on snowshoes to drill and pound in 30 spiles. The sap was off to a slow start, but the drip had begun nonetheless. (The next few days clouded over and cooled off, so I don’t expect the sap to be off to a run for another week.)

The spiles are a combination of old and new. The dozen old ones were used for decades by my grandfather on the north shore of Mille Lacs. I’m not certain, but I’m fairly sure they were also used by his father in the same area before that.


After the spiles were driven, the chickadees called me further into the woods. So with snowshoes on, I headed down and up the ravine and deeper into my familiar wooded grounds. Out of the upland hardwoods and into the conifer bog I went, following my sunken trail from a couple of weeks before. I had expected the track I packed to be riddled with prints of deer, fox, and other passersby. I was surprised to still see very little activity in the woods. Some chickadees, woodpeckers, and ravens were above, and some aggressive penmanship of a pileated woodpecker, but there was scarcely a critter track on the forest floor.

Into the spruce bog I came across an exciting treat. In the shadows of the the spruce, the limp, red wrists of the leather leaf was showing more and more. Even more special, however, was revealed a cluster of pitcher plants among a sphagnum knoll. Red and erect, and even capturing its first bug of the season, I was impressed how well last summer’s pitchers had survived our brutal winter.

It’s amazing how something so tropical-looking can be that hardy for a Minnesota winter. The bog is much more difficult to navigate in the summer- given the soft ground, open water, and swarms of mosquitoes; but I hope to return in spring and summer to find more carnivorous plants, elusive orchids, and other treasures that can only be seen in their natural habitat. In the meantime, it’s back to the maples in hopes of a good sap run during the upcoming days.

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