My tools said the time was right.
My friends were tapping their trees.
My heart felt the sun’s warmth as I pierced the tree’s bark with my drill.
My two faithful old maples, which started before my home was here.
The sap came for one day, then froze.
I know the warmth will come again, but as my tools show days and days of frozen temperatures until the page runs out, I quell my excitement with reading about maple syrup.
During this time of isolation, I am digging deep; searching. Examining my pedagogy as I shift to new adventures. I’m seeking to relearn what my ancestors knew. Learning how my ancestors came to this land I now tend. Learning of indigenous and black experiences that happened here and are happening here. Examining and acknowledging what my ancestors ideas and roles might have been. Examining my own. Examining decolonization without appropriation. In preparation for action. Unlearning and relearning. Waiting for the frozen time to end.
I’m struck by a paper titled Lands as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson that uses Nishnaabeg stories to teach what on the surface is joy in producing maple syrup after a child finds ‘sweet water,’ but digs deep into the trust a mother places in her child when she comes to her with a new discovery. “Her mother, in turn, meets her daughter with love and trust.” Simpson uses this storytelling as a theoretical anchor to discuss how colonists have “appropriated and recast the process within a hyper-individualism that negates relationality.” Simpson explores how colonists take the relationship to the trees and the animals away from this annual time of sap flowing and focus on the mechanics and the selling. This examination flips my maple process on its head. It reminds me of another idea: There are many ways of knowing.
I also think about the story Maple Sugar Moon by Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass where Kimmerer uses stories adapted from oral tradition, Ritzenthaler and Ritzenthaler (1983), her scientific knowledge as a botanist and experience with her own children to relate to the maple sap running. My current reading with Brene Brown reminds me that, “If learning is going to be transformative, it is going to be uncomfortable and unpredictable.” Yes.
I reflect on how I might share this season with the children I have the privilege of teaching. As a settler colonist, I seek, not take these stories as my own, but read what is given, learn from it and see how I can help break the cycle of colonialism through supporting and raising up the words and works of indigenous people. Indigenous voices are a critical part of the diverse and body of knowledge that we need teaching children.
So, when I work with children, we can share the stories that are freely given and with proper credit. We can ponder the lessons they give while we wait for the land to teach us. What relationship will we make?
...with the squirrel who models for us.
...with the maple who gives her sap.
...with the land where we are.
...with each other.
I’m grateful for this lesson from teachers far away while I wait for signals from the animals and the sun on my cheeks. Then I will offer my thanks both in words and deeds as I only take what we need and then tend this little patch with our generous maples. Waiting is just alright with me.