I was thinking about how sea salt that you boil in to crystals yourself is so much more potent….and I was writing about maple wine, so it all got me thinking about maple syrup/maple sugar. In some ways, maple sugar and sea salt are perfect opposites – what appears to be clear, pure water, boiled unrecognizable, emerging crystalline, the only difference salty or sweet. And making maple syrup/sugar is a PROCESS: gathering buckets of sap from around the woods, stumbling over snow banks and bushes to bring it to the sugar shack, boiling the sap and constantly feeding the fire for hours and days, going through more wood than you could imagine and watching a gradient of amber spread through the pans, darkening in to rich sweet syrup. If you want to make sugar, you take it boil it even more, evaporating the last of the water in it, the last memory of how it used to flow in a forests’ veins. It takes some 40-80 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, more to make sugar. And making syrup with someone gets real…for a time, you’re popping in and out to go collect the rest of the buckets, but after a while it’s just you and them in a small, maple steam filled shed, usually drinking something homemade and of questionable alcohol content, talking through the day and the night. Or by yourself, with your thoughts and your wishes and your ghosts, though I’ve never done this for long, just fractions of an hour, unlike friends who have spent days there boiling away heart break or trying to get their head and pans level.
If you need something strong to protect you, you can’t do much better than homemade sea salt. But if you need to barter something, to trade for something big and important and true, I wonder if a homemade maple sugar candy might get you what you’re looking for.
I imagine you bring it to the edge of the forest. Or more likely, that corner of the dining hall where no matter what hour of the day someone is drinking coffee and almost done a paper they never seem to finish. All the right words… “if it would please you,” what you seek, and their reply, “and in exchange?” So you make your offer: the blood of a forest’s platoon impervious to their wounds, a fire tended, a confession you would never have made otherwise, a week of your life. They are delighted, to get so much for what now seems like so little, and greedily they reach towards you, ready to take what you have promised, and before their hands, or not exactly hands anymore, can find you – you place it on the table. A small maple sugar candy. You’ve pressed it in to a maple leaf mold because hell, if you’re gonna do this you may as well do it right. The air freezes for a second, and you feel your blood still as you wonder if you have misjudged…and then you feel it begin to thaw, the sap to run again. It smiles at you. It doesn’t mind clever, and fortunately for you, it’s a fan of sweet.