A Seed Story
It started with a seed. In this case, a maple seed. Flung to the ground from an upper branch the previous year, tucked into the brown leaf duff on a Massachusetts hillside, it had slept through a long winter under a soft blanket of deep snow. Now that snow was beginning to liquefy and flow in the warming spring sun, soaking the seed and the ground that held it. The seed responded to the water and increasing warmth by beginning to swell, insistently bursting a single slim tendril through a crack in it its tight seed coat and sending it out and down in search of more water, always more water. It would be the seed’s single most important limit to growth throughout its life.
In short order, the seed began leafing dichotomously toward the sun, and now, supplied with water and nutrition from the soil it rooted in, fueled with solar energy from that great fusion reactor 8 minutes away at the speed of light, the seedling began to grow. Just a few inches of heighth that first critical season, heedless to the herbivores that overlooked it, sheltering in the shade of the great tree that broadcast it onto the spot of soil where it would live out its existence.
Over the years, seedling grew to sapling, and then a young maple. Birds began to nest in its expanding crown, squirrels escaped into its heights to avoid predators, wild turkeys trotted past its widening trunk. All of them left behind gifts of fertility to help it reach and grow another season, and then sleep for winter.
And as every winter loosed its icy grip on the maple’s body and soul, the water, like that first drop that woke the seed, returned and flowed. It pushed its way up from the warming soil, through the secret passages running just below the bark. The water transformed a little of the starch the tree had stored from the previous season into sugar, ready to help nourish the tree in the coming season’s growth. Sometimes, due to the freezing and thawing that cycled across the day/night temperature swings in the early spring, a few drops of slightly sweet sap would escape through a crack in its corky skin.
One sunny March day, a half century past the seed’s first emergence, a man clad in blue bib overalls approached the tree, assessing its form and health , nodding his head slowly up and down. His rough reddened hands held a brace and bit against the tree, at a spot about 4 feet above the ground, and as those strong hands rotated on the handle of the brace, the bit corkscrewed its way through the bark, piercing the thin layer of fresh spring flow and stopping about an inch and a half into the white wet wood beneath. The man gently but firmly tapped a hollow tube into the hole, and hung a bucket and cover beneath it to catch that clear sweet life flow of the tree. A drop silently emerged at the lip of the spout, and fell to the floor of the bucket with a gentle “ting”. The seed had offered its first drop of sugar to the man.
Throughout the day, and sometimes into the night, the tree offered up its watery sugar drop by drop. The man was careful not to take too much, drilling just one hole, setting just one tap into the tree. This the tree could sustain, year after year. In later years, when the tree’s girth swelled to 18 inches or so, a second tap could be set in the tree, and after 24 inches, a third. Some folks added a fourth and even fifth tap on really grand old trees, but this man kept to 3 as a limit. “Enough”, he said, to no one in particular.