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Taps and Buckets


“A sap-run is the sweet good-bye of winter. It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and frost.” — John Burroughs, in Signs and Seasons, 1886

March is a “tweener” month, a transition time between winter and spring. It’s also a very unpredictable month here in the northeast, with mixtures of sun, rain, snow, and gale force winds. Temperatures can soar to near 80 degrees or plummet to near zero, creating a pulsating tension between opposites – cold and warm, winter and summer, darkness and light. Such makes March perhaps the most volatile month of the year. March also coincides with several transitional times on the calendar — the vernal equinox, the Maple Moon, and for many, Lent and Easter.

Above ground, trees appear barren and lifeless during the long winter months, while below ground their roots sink deeper into the soil in search of moisture and nutrients for the season of renewal ahead. Sugar Maples are no exception. They too draw up sap from their roots enabling them to survive and recharge during the dark, freezing months of winter. In early spring sap flows downward through the tree to replenish its roots and can be tapped in buckets to make maple syrup. Sap runs best at daytime temperatures of 40 degrees, and nighttime temperatures below freezing. Sap stops running when it is either too cold or too warm and is activated only in that “sweet spot” between temperature fluctuations in mercurial March.

Sugar Maples remind us to tap into our core in transitional seasons when life itself sometimes hangs in the balance, tossed to-and-fro between the fluctuating extremes of faith and doubt, sickness and health, or fear and courage. Crises tend to dim and blind our exterior self as we awaken to and free fall toward our inner self, and with it the few things that matter. Like tree sap in March, the essential meaning of most crises can be found in silent repose beneath the din and tumult of our ruffled souls. Such times provide opportunities to reach for our inner “tap and bucket,” accessing those hidden places where God listens better than we speak, offering consolations from the thunder of his silence. This is particularly so when crises give rise to unsettling thoughts, intense emotions and clouded perspectives that run the gamut, waxing and waning like March weather, or the Maple Moon.

This year March also coincides with the hopeful signs of a passing Covid winter, in the nascent stages of losing its dreadful grip on a nation l-o-n-g ravaged by same. As with other harsh and bitter seasons, it promises to carry and invincible spring and summer in the middle of it, preferably post haste. Meanwhile, those who prefer to access a repose untrammeled by passing times and seasons, know it is available anytime in silence and solitude, stern friends of the godly. May our second consecutive March of limited mobility and imposed distancing be viewed as an opportunity to rediscover this liminal “sweet spot” between extremes, that place of descent into the center of our being that lies in silent union and solidarity with God, nature, and others amid a turbulent world.

Lord, help us to tap into the Tree of Life at our very core. Like the sugar maple, the presence of your living “sap” is found flowing in the depths of all living things in all seasons, without surcease. In these perilous and uncertain times, cause us to rediscover you deeply there, and bring us together with compassion in ways that business as usual, technology, easy comfort and entertainment never can.

Joe Masterleo, LCSW, DCSW is a clinical social worker in private practice in Syracuse, NY. His nearly half-century of service as a therapist in the mental health care field includes faith-based counseling, with a specialty in integrating psychology and spirituality. His vast clinical experience and rich knowledge base are augmented and informed by Integral Theology and Creation Spirituality. His articles, columns and commentaries on various subjects, including sports, have been published in local newspapers and magazines. Currently, his practice is listed on the Psychology Today website in Syracuse, NY. More detailed information as to the nature and scope of his practice, areas of expertise and types of service provided by contacting Joe at

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