Many, many moons ago, young Nanabush set out in early spring with his Grandmother into the forest. The Grandmother who was very knowledgeable in trees, flowers, and forest animals, showed Nanabush how to cut the
bark of the maple tree, then to place a stick into the cut, wait a while for the sap to begin flowing, and then it can be caught straight in the mouth. After Nanabush had tasted a few drops of the liquid, he liked it a lot, he
realized that it was very tasty and sweet and that it would flow for ever. It was like the golden nectar of a flower. After a while, when he had thought it over, he climbed to the top of the tree and drenched all of the trees with water. His Grandmother asked him why he did this, to which he replied that the sweetness was to easy to get, and that it would make
his people lazy, which would have catastrophic consequences. This is the legend of the Canadian Indians about maple syrup.
The white immigrants to Canada discovered the maple trees only after Nanabush had already reached them - the juice flowed freely but was watery and needed to be
thickened up before it could be used as a substitute for costly sugar for the colonials. This was also the beginning of the spring excursions into the forest to collect maple syrup. As soon as the temperature rises, and the trees feel the start of spring, the root system begins to send up into the
tree vast amounts of stored sugars for the rebuilding of the leaves. This is exactly what the Canadians wait for. They take to the forests in groups, collect the syrup, thicken it over a bonfire, and this is how we have the famous maple syrup which even now, despite the cheapness of sugar, is an important natural product of Canada.
And the leaf of the maple tree, very noble in its design became the official
coat-of-arm of Canada and can be seen as the motif on the Canadian flag. And where are the forest lollies?
On the attached reproduction of the painting (by Snyder?) we can see a Canadian excursion
of the previous century, thickening the syrup over a fire. But it also happened, that the frost would sometimes return, and the children would begin to have fun. Chunks of the thickened syrup would
form into frozen sweets, and the juice from the trees would form into sweet icicles. Another interesting fact, not an ethnographical, but a zoological one, is that birds on the islands of
northern Japan also have discovered the spring "juicing" of trees. After the winter
blizzards juices flow out of broken braches and turn into sweet icicles. The birds wait for this very
occurrence and feast on the 'icicle candy', all of which was documented by a beautiful
BBC film a few years ago.
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)