Tapping Trees By Hand


This sugar sap season we were blessed with the opportunity to use a hand drill.  I will sheepishly admit, that I wasn’t thrilled with the idea at first, and actually, I was a little hot under the collar, to be completely honest.  ‘You want me to do what?!! SERIOUSLY???!!!’ 

You see, we didn’t set out to tap our trees this way, but life has a way of changing your plans.

Our rechargeable drill was fired up and ready to go, but when I tried to use it on the first tree, I discovered it didn’t have enough giddy-up to get the job done. The batteries are shot.  Faced with another improvisation in getting the job done, my lovin man found his great-grandpa’s hand drill in the garage.  I am quite sure that the look on my face was rather priceless, as I was presented with the notion, of well, here, you will just have to use this.  He was a bit sheepish, but I did notice the twinkle in his eye…because after 20 years of marriage, I’m bettin he knew how I would react. At first, I thought it was a joke.  Then the more he gently teased me into the idea, the more I reluctantly agreed for him to show me how it worked.  I am a little ashamed to admit, that I do not readily like to change the plan.  No matter what it is, it takes me a while, and sometimes with a lot of grumbling, and sometimes some not so nice words in my head, to wrap my mind around doing things another way. Bless the soul of my husband.  He has the patience of Job with me, always has.

Now, lovely people, do not think that I shirk at the idea of hard work, because I don’t.  Most of what I do every day is by hand.  Some out of necessity, some things out of choice.  I like the feel of doing things simply.  Yes, often it is what is referred to as work by most, but I have found that work to bear fruit of deep satisfaction with a job well done.  There is something to be said for manual labor, it steadies the mind, strains the muscle, and allows for a girl to step back, tired, dirty, calloused, but happy with a deep peace that one can rest now that the job is done.

Let it be said that I am not mechanically inclined.  I wish I was.  I can manage, but usually it isn’t pretty, and probably a less than average outcome.  Power tools are slightly terrifying to me, as most are, well for lack of better word- powerful.  Plus it doesn’t help that they can render you without an appendage or limb in a matter of seconds.  Yes, I am being slightly dramatic, but this is how they make me feel.  So, as luck would have it, I have fallen in love with the hand drill.  Yep, you heard me right, LOVE IT!!!!  This really shouldn’t surprise me I guess, with my love of doing things by hand.  However, on the cusp of hand-drilling fifty trees, I wasn’t quite as convinced as I am now in the process.

If I have my way, I will always tap my maple trees with a hand drill.

So, the next day after a late evening apprehensive lesson in how the hand drill works, the boys and I took to the maple trail. Armloads of buckets, and hand tools in tow.  We walk our trail, we do not use an ATV as many do, and have found abundant joy in doing it this way.  There is a peace that comes from working in the woods alongside the wild.  Feeling each footstep on an awakening forest floor and listening to the symphony of wild things.  The wind in the trees, the tenor of the wild turkeys, the banter of early spring songbirds overhead.  The hoot of the Great Horned Owl, and a cackling of crows accompany us as we work with our hands. The boys feel this too, and we are all drawn in.  It becomes a sacred, magical journey into the wild and free.  Unencumbered by harsh noise made by power tools drowning out  the sounds of the wild, you become a part of it, and add rhythms of your own.  The playful chatter of boys, the full, deep belly laughs that only freedom knows, the freedom of deeply trusting who you are, the ones you are with, and your surroundings, the exclamations of joyful discovery of some natural wonder, the moments of silence and deep soulful conversations, the brush of fabric as a hand reaches out to hold, all add to the orchestra playing the notes of the wild and free.

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We each took our turn with the hand drill, each of us slowly learning to trust the tool and allow it to do the work.  For there is a secret to a hand tool, one that lies in its very design.  The secret is, the tool will do the work, all you have to do in operating it, is to be steady and guide.  So this became my mantra as I guided each kiddo through their initiation.  Look up into the branches, choose your spot, make it comfortable for you, so you can be steady, turn the handle, do not push, let the drill do the work.  Once each of us learned how to trust the tool to do the job it was designed for, it became easy, and unbelievable joyful.  The hand drill became an extension of your body, an expression of your energy applied to a very focused and attentive task.  Your mind became pleasantly entertained by the process of the drill bit biting into bark and with steady guiding, the gentle whirring of shavings being released from their hold as a rhythmic breath pulsed muscle to turn the soft, smooth wooden handle, ease and very little effort produced the resulting dwelling for the tap to reside.  I watched the boys as each of them had their moment, you could see it happen, it would slowly wash over them, the realization that they could trust the tool, and not fight it, they could allow it to work, as all they had to do was guide and observe.  They had full control, and after a few tries complete mastery over the process.  They learned to trust themselves, their bodies, and the tools that magnified their own energy.  Each of them gleaned a deep satisfaction, a deep knowing of self and tool, from learning and participating in this process of working with not only their hands, but heart as well.

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It was a joyful afternoon.  One I would not trade for anything, not even a power drill!…Especially not for a power drill now that I have insight into our journey together on this land.  As I look back at my reaction to the hand drill I am overwhelmed with gladness, that I opened my mind and heart, unclenched my fists to the idea of tapping our trees by hand.  The enrichment of the process brought by tapping those trees by hand has touched our hearts and embedded upon our souls a deep satisfaction, deep peace in knowing and trusting in ourselves, our bodies, and the natural processes that surround us.