Spring’s Sad Sweet Sugars

Harry Drabik

When young I heard with puzzlement elders occasionally refer to June 15 as midsummer and spring the season when the aged died. As a kid these observations made no sense. What was wrong with elders to think June 15 was the middle of a summer just begun? Taking passing note as I headed toward age 20 I noted the springtime rise in deaths among old bachelor loggers and similar bush rat types. It seemed a bit odd that this was so, different enough to cause a short pause in my youthful vining. A simple analogy may explain this. When children we are a hillside spring tumbling with gravitational energies that cannot then foresee existence in a flowing brook, wide meandering river, or how we might become lost in a great lake or vast ocean where our freshness becomes diluted to memory in saline seas. In our individual beings time not only passes but is cumulative in each existence.
Another analogy comes to mind. For a number of years I joined the spring ritual turning maple sap to syrup. As in all things done “in nature” little more than a small percentage can be gained reading in Syrup for Dummies. I was taught a Polish Proverb I’m sure has form in many another cultures. “The work teaches you how to do it.” But there is actually more. The work teaches the universal whole, of all the infinity we sometimes reduce calling it earthly creation. In each year’s sap is the record of the previous season along with however many prior seasons the tree has known. In the memory of a maple the nearest season is the strongest giving increased sap minerals in lush wet years and miserly sap with resource protecting waxes when the tree was tested by drought. As its lover a tree bores into earth’s ancient resources built on formations of millions of years. All this is moved through the present by local flow of waters on their way to far off oceans and the weather borne moisture that once called Asia, the Pacific, or Arctic its home.
How sweet it is to see and taste the infinite come together in a moment of sugary perfection that brings ages of resource and evolution to life in an amber colored liquid dancing in the light. How sad the way we will take all this for granted in cavalier disregard or open waste of what took an eternity to reach our plate. Vintage is found not only in wines. History is found scribed in more places than books. Every sprawling farm, tidy garden plot, or potted geranium takes a part in the long story of ancient eruptions bringing raw material from deep below and the original waters that restlessly shape and transport in flows that seem ordinary until you see in one Grand Canyon location the story written on a single sheet of vision.

Each of us is her or his own sad sweet tale of springs past and futures our roots have yet to touch. My summer used not to begin until I packed what I’d need into a second hand footlocker and left for work. Looking back I appreciate how freeing it was to have pretty much all I needed in one box. In following years (some say of a desire for the self-punishment I deserved) the footlocker reduced further to half the contents of a Duluth Cruiser Pack. It was abundant living and glorious freedom to settle down on unpadded earth and sleep in exhausted satisfaction. I never found words to explain to mother why I gave up “a perfectly good bed” every summer to sleep on the ground. I can’t explain it to you now, either. I can only say that spring’s sweet arrival now carries the sad-happy memory of a dilapidated footlocker and hard-used Duluth pack that are no longer central to a daily life.
The other day I moved my old favorite paddle, a gift from Cliff, my old Scoutmaster, who had Frank Powell make it for me. How many miles flow with that paddle? How many hours did it and I dance with the waters of how many lakes and rivers? When summer after summer from one decade into another doing a simple act of paddling the result is more than a tally of strokes or an account of miles. I hope it will not sound impossibly soppy or ridiculous to say I see those times as an ongoing act of loving between sky, paddle, myself, canoe, and water. When you do a thing long enough it does indeed teach you how it is to be done but it also instructs in the ages, in the individual’s solo ability to meet his portion of the infinite, and of all those powers of nature and of imagination that are the fabric of a life well lived and fully.
If that’s not soppy enough for you I can add maudlin sorrowing, but only, I’m afraid, to a point. I mourn not being able to paddle worth a hoot with a worn out wrist that screams to Jupiter when pushed, but when I remember what was needed to wear out that wrist and to throw my shoulders into well-worn status I end up with a smile. It was worth it. As boy and man spending summers and seasons of perpetual love in the outdoors was a fortune beyond banking. Would I have been as happy and as intimately interwoven with the earth had I sat in a piloted private jet as I was in the Grumman 18 that was my vessel for traveling places that gave time enough to meet the fringes of eternity? A poverty of soul or spirit is the worst form of destitution; one achieved being fooled by false gods in any form they take. The heart is, I think, always our first and best teacher. Fed on love and friendship the heart grows one way. Feed it dogma and it roots another direction. Both forms may speak of love, but only one form truly knows of what it speaks.