Sap Running Moon
Our lives, lived sustainably, honour the interlocking cycles all around us, echoed within us. As part of the planetary cycles, March 20 this year was not only the Spring Equinox (Northern Hemisphere) but the Full Moon. Equinox is the beginning of the astrological new year and a new annual cycle. At the Equinox, we experience equal light and dark all over the world…that delicious moment of balance…with 12 hours of each. Balance is one of the key principles in Ancient knowledge systems. Thus, this equinox brings relief to not only the winter-laden hemispheres in the North but also to the sun-baked hemispheres in the South.
Equinox and Full Moon is very auspicious; Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon turn to face each other, reminding us that Masculine and Feminine energies are equal, that solar and lunar are equal. This moment is also a reminder that the warm brightness of Grandfather Sun and the cool bright light of Grandmother Moon are equally important to life on Earth. The Sun brings increasing heat to warm the soil and increasingly powerful sunlight awakens roots and sap waters in all plants.
But this is only half of the growth cycle, as plants grow most at night in the dark. Plants capture light energy during the day creating food by photosynthesis, but then they synthesize this energy into new tissue growth at night, when there is less heat stress and water loss. This is, of course, similar to our bodies, as healing, growth and restoration occur while we sleep. So too, for plants with their own circadian rhythms, they sleep at night. It is like breathing…plants take in a breath of energy during the day and then exhale into plant growth overnight.
Part of our lesson in this moon is that light and dark are equally important, particularly in a stressed society that ignores the importance of darkness, deep inhaling and exhaling, and rest times. This year, more than many, I feel that I am myself awakening from winter sleepiness, with more outer awareness including a vibrancy of colours and sounds. There is an irritability at the end of one season as we stretch outward into another that is emerging. The surging energy will soon vibrate the whole forest, reminding us of life-giving purposes.
Ancient cultures have celebrated the vernal equinox as the beginning of spring, when the sap begins to run, and the natural world awakens from its restful sleepiness. The earliest green shoots are emerging, chickens begin to lay their eggs again, denning bears emerge, and mating season begins for the fecundity ahead. It is a time of new beginnings. Thus, we too bring closure to our winter projects and look ahead to new activities and plans, as we draw the light into our body, our soul arises from its winter introspection to look outward once again. In these ways, the circuit of our bodies and souls are connected to the sun’s circuit.
Sap in a tree is much like blood in the human body; it is 95% water and it flows through the sapwood or straw-like vessels delivering water, sugars and nutrients up into the tree. During the warm months, photosynthesis creates carbohydrates that are stored in the tree as starch. This is converted to sugar that dissolves into the sap. In fall, the sap withdraws into the roots to reduce the chance of dehydration and rests over the winter while all the leaf matter is released. The sap that does remain in the above ground parts of the tree has a higher sugar content, acting like anti-freeze. One of the first signs of spring, is the meltback around the base of trees, as the sap begins to move and heat is expired around the tree. The sap begins to move up into the tree, the cells again begin to swell, and the nutrients enable buds to form. The smell of unthawing humus and swelling buds tingle our senses, enlivening our sap too.
One of the first celebrations of spring on the East Coast of Canada and Northeastern USA is maple syrup. Aboriginal people in these areas called this the Maple Moon. One oldtime story (this one by Connie Brummel Cook) is of the child Limping Leg getting lost in the forest. Huddled by the tree he watched a squirrel scratch an old maple tree and drink the sap. Always learning from animal kin, the boy grasped a branch and saw sap oozing from a bald patch. Tasting its sweetness, he led the leaders to the tree. At first disbelieving, then witnessing the running of the sap, led to the discovery of maple syrup, a welcome addition to the sparseness and monotony of dwindling winter food stores.
Sugar maple trees are unique in that their sap runs downward not upward during the day. As the days warm but the nights still freeze, rather than expelling the sap into the air as evening approaches like other trees, they draw up more sap and store this sap in carbon-dioxide-filled cells. As the day warms, the sap flows back down the tree and then up again, through positive and negative pressure, like our heart. Originally, syrup was tapped with bark taps and dripped into birchbark baskets, then boiled down. Giant iron pots settled onto coals were eventually used to boil down the sap into syrup. Only in the 1940s was the process mechanized and tap lines run through the sugar bush.
Another spring celebration is the appearance of first greens and the ancient practice of gathering these first edibles the Earth offers up. In Eastern Canada, it is the fiddlehead greens of the ostrich fern. The Maliseet in New Brunswick harvested fiddleheads as a spring medicinal tonic cleansing the winter body of impurities and toxins, a form of spring cleaning. The fiddleheads are the first fresh, nutrient-rich vegetable to break winter.
On the West Coast it is miner’s lettuce or claytonia, sea weed, wild onion, licorice fern, and the youngest shoots on the salmonberry, thimbleberry and nettle shrubs whose early shoots taste like spinach. Camas lily bulbs were dug by the bushel as a staple food; fields were semi-cultivated through fire and clearing, as were areas with corms of spring-beauty. Synchronized with their wild cousins, my garden boxes are giving chives as well as onion and garlic shoots and soon the asparagus and rhubarb. These fresh foods bring new energy into our winter-weary bodies and take us into a higher energy annual phase.
Finding Balance by Becoming Cyclical
One of the challenges of our linear, growth-oriented society is once again honouring cyclical time. Sustainability is about relationality…becoming attuned to our kin around us and the changes that plants, animals and birds are undergoing within planetary movements. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are part of these cycles and they impact our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirit. In this new year and the sap-running moon, can you find one cycle that you can become attuned to? Perhaps it is the solar cycle over the year, perhaps it is the moon cycle each month, perhaps it is the seasonal cycle?
To move in a cyclical form of living, start with one cycle and plot out the important moments and the waxing and waning that are part of that cycle. Carry out a small ritual acknowledgement for each of these moments or join a group that is celebrating these moments. In this way, we move from being “a part from” the natural world to “a part of”, embedded in our Earth membership.
Note what you learn as you participate over the cycle, in terms of health, mood, energy, and productivity. Once we become aware of these interlocking circles of relatedness and the lessons around us, we find a new rhythm for living that flows with, rather than against. New synchronicities tend to manifest and most importantly, those moments of balance will find us more regularly.