How To Make Maple Syrup

Collecting maple sap the traditional way, in buckets

Sometimes the sweetest things take the most effort to produce, don’t they?

Take, for instance, maple syrup, one of Canada’s iconic products. We often use it atop pancakes or waffles, or in desserts (see below). This delicious liquid starts out as sap collected from sugar maple trees.

Right now it’s maple syrup season in Eastern Canada: as the weather warms, the sap in the trees starts flowing freely. Holes are drilled into the trunks of the maples, and buckets or tubing collects the dripping sap, which is then transported to a central location.

And then it’s ready to be bottled, right? No! Actually, the process has only just begun.

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Orchestra In Your Garden

Snowdrops, one of the harbingers of spring

Finally! At long last we’re starting to see signs of spring here in Toronto.

There’s still a bit of snow on the ground, but the tiny snowdrops in my garden are already shyly blooming. The tulips are just starting to poke the tips of their leaves above the ground like a periscope, as if checking to see whether it’s safe to emerge.

“The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.” (Song of Solomon 2:12 NLT)

After a long winter, it makes my heart sing to see the beginnings of spring.

But do the flowers and trees themselves sing? And if they do, what is their song telling us?

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Promises of Good Things To Come

Vintage seed catalogues from the 1890s.
(Publicdomainpictures.net)

When winter still has us in its icy grip, it’s hard to imagine that it will ever let us go. There seems to be no end to the frigid temperatures and snowstorms, and it can really get a person down.

What can we do to give us hope during a bleak, cold winter?

A favourite thing that gardeners do is to curl up indoors with some seed catalogues. They read about the promise of future luxuriant flower gardens and abundant crops of vegetables. It lifts their spirits and helps them hold on until spring comes.

Let me show you what I mean:

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Try Looking Up

People transfixed by their phones, Hyde Park, London
Photo by Waterford_Man on Flickr CC BY-2.0

The other day I went for walk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Even though the trees were bare of leaves and there was snow on ground, it was still a place of great beauty.

I noticed something strange, however, about the other visitors to the park. I must have passed at least a dozen other people as I walked the winding trail down the ravine to the river, but they were all standing stock-still.

Had I wandered onto a set for some science-fiction movie, in which aliens freeze people in place in advance of taking over the planet? Or had all these people been suddenly afflicted with a disease that left them immobilized?

No, the reason they were standing as motionless as statues was because they were all staring down at their smartphones.

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Life Lessons from Driving in Snow

Oops! A pickup truck loses control in snowy conditions, colliding with a state trooper.
Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation on Flickr
CC BY NC-ND-2.0

Do you live in an area with a snowy climate? Then you’ll know the sheer joy of trying to drive during a heavy snowstorm.

The snowplow hasn’t come by yet, so for starters no one can see the lane markers. Cars start to slip and slide into the wrong lane. Drivers become less able to stop their vehicles in time at red lights, or to get up large hills. Cars might be stuck at the side of the road, wheels spinning fruitlessly. The number of car accidents skyrockets, and everyone is late for work.

It’s delightful, isn’t it?

But there are a few tricks to driving in snow, and they also apply to navigating through the difficulties of life.

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An Unexpected Friend

Last summer, I had an unusual visitor. A lady I didn’t recognize came to my front door and rang the doorbell. I’d never seen her before, but she was clearly from the neighbourhood, as she had come on foot.

She said she had come to apologize to me.

I was mystified. This lady was a total stranger: why would she need to apologize to me?

“What on earth for?” I asked her.

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Spring Is On Its Way

Stonehenge, site of solstice celebrations for millennia
Public Domain photo

The shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere is the winter solstice, which occurred last year on December 21st. From that day on, the days begin to lengthen and the sun’s position in the sky begins to rise from our perspective.

But if the days are now getting longer and we’re getting more sunlight, why does it keep getting colder and snowier here in January and February?

Where is spring?

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Are You At The Breaking Point?

Trees bent over by ice storm
“Ice Cathedrals” photo by Daryne Rockett on Flickr CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

If you live in a cold climate, have you ever woken up to discover that there had been an ice storm overnight? You look outside to find the bare branches of the trees are encased in a thick layer of ice.

The effect can be absolutely stunning. The branches glisten and sparkle in the sunlight. People rush outside to take photos of the ice-covered trees.

But the beauty masks a danger: those bare branches are at risk. They were never meant to carry the weight of so much ice. The branches may break off, and the tree can be left devastated.

Do you ever feel like you’re carrying too much “weight”?

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God Provides, Even in Winter

Male Northern Cardinal. Photo by Tom Murray on Flickr CC BY-NC-2.0

If you live in eastern North America, you might be lucky enough to have seen a gorgeous bird called the northern cardinal. The male is especially distinctive, with his breathtaking red plumage and black “mask” on his face.

Up here in Canada, the cardinal is at the northernmost part of its range. We’re especially fortunate that, unlike many songbirds, cardinals don’t migrate south for the winter. We get to enjoy their presence year-round.

But what on earth do the cardinals eat here, when parts of Canada might be covered in several feet of snow?

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Fill in the Blanks

Photo by Michael Gaida on Pixabay

Did you know that some people make a hobby out of “reading” the forest in winter? By that I mean identifying trees despite their being bare of leaves this time of year.

This can be quite challenging, because frankly, many species of trees look almost identical to each other without their leaves. How do these nature lovers do it? How do they “fill in the blanks” and distinguish one species of tree from another in winter?

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