With the recent snow and cold weather, last summer’s dry heat seems like a distant memory. Yet, it was only this past week that the National Weather Service officially changed its “moderate drought” designation to “abnormally dry” for most of Lake County, Illinois (although, a small northwest portion of the county is still considered to be in a “moderate drought”). While every drop of rain and flake of snow is helping to slowly ease our way out of the past eight months of drought, the damage already done will decide the sweetness of this spring.
Each spring for the past three decades, the naturalists at Ryerson Conservation Area have tapped sugar maple trees to harvest the sap and turn it into pure maple syrup.
When the first days of March roll around in northern Illinois, many of us search desperately for the first signs of spring. For some, it may be the green “sprouttles” of spring beauties thrusting themselves out of the leaf-matted soil. For others, it might be hearing the two-toned territorial call of a chickadee or the pungent smell of skunk cabbage. For many, it may just be the feel of mud squashing under their boots on the hike to find any and all signs of early spring.
For me, the first sign of spring is not something you can see, hear, smell or feel. It is what is happening in silent mystery beneath the bark of the sugar maple trees—the first run of sap. This typically occurs in Lake County around Valentine’s Day, far before anyone is thinking about spring.