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"I thank the tree": Finding meaning through sugaring in Lansing's woods

Courtesy Photo

It’s been over a year since COVID-19 hit Michigan and there’s been so much news to keep up with. From burned-out health care workers and grieving families, to street protests against police brutality, to violence in our state and national capitals. It's been a lot.

So we want to switch gears a little with a new series called Getting Through. These are stories and sounds of how we’re staying grounded during this chaos.

First up in this series, we have Barb Barton. She’s a writer, musician, filmmaker, and a wild foods gatherer. Barton takes us on a walk with her friend Rachel Mifsud to the forest behind her house in Lansing, where she’s been tapping the same walnut trees for sap for years. Listen here:

How to sugar

"It's always a surprise when it's time to start tapping trees. Their sap runs when the temperatures get above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. When that happens, it's just like, OK, boom, here it is.

"So you go out and you go to your sugarbush or in my case, the park behind my house and what I do is I go out with my bucket, drill a hole in the tree. I usually do two in this particular walnut tree. And you tap in the spile, and then you hang a bag from it to our bucket to collect the sap. And then you wait and you wait and you wait."

Community care during COVID

illustration of people doing things to get through the pandemic
Credit Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

"When COVID first hit, I had surgery on my hand two days before the governor issued her stay-at-home order. For a while ... I started to feel scared of the isolation. You know, I've suffered from depression most of my life, and isolation is absolutely the fuel that drives it sometimes.

"But then it kind of dawned on me that I could take this opportunity to really focus on growth and take this time of stillness to reflect in ways that I hadn't in a long time.

"It also helped me to realize how lucky I am to be very self-sufficient.

"A lot of people were kind of freaking out in the beginning of the pandemic because there wasn't any toilet paper, wasn't any bread, wasn't any yeast. I happened to have sourdough starter and I knew how to make sourdough starter just by mixing flour and water together and letting it sit on your counter. So I was able to share that knowledge with others.

"There was this real sense of community in the smaller scale of taking care of each other, sharing what we had with each other, making sure that we were OK."

Giving thanks

"I thank the tree for basically sharing its lifeblood. I mean that sap is of the blood, in a sense, of the tree. It's pulling up the water from from the earth and basically freeing up the sugar that it has stored in its body and when you take sap from the tree, you are taking part of its life energy. And then when you eat it, you're making that energy part of your own being.

"So, I have a lot of gratitude for that gift that's being shared with me. And I think that's part of part of how we can get through these times that we're in now is focusing on our gratitude for what we do have. A lot of times people are really focused right now on what we don't have, but we really do have a lot to be thankful for."

Want to share your own story of how you're getting through? Call us at (734) 408-1753 and leave a message. Click here to find out more.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.
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