The weather for our day turned out to be totally acceptable and in many ways awesome! We had a large, diverse group of children, with a wide range of ages, from many different schools, and a dazzling array of clothing colors. I absolutely love seeing the bright rainbow of bundled-up children against the white and gray background of winter.
We ate our snack and played on an enormous log on a sandbar by Indian Creek, and introduced ourselves and went over some safety rules there, then it was time to head up to the Nature Center for our Maple Syrup tour. We split our big group in half; Guide and Naturalist Jan took my group, Jenny and Kim guided Michele and Melanie and their kids. Despite temperatures we all thought were too cool, both groups got great sap flow when they tapped maple trees! It was so exciting to use the old-fashioned bit-and-brace hand drill to make a hole, and then to see the clear sap drip out as if from a badly leaking faucet. We tasted the sap and found it much like water, with an almost imperceptible sweetness.
After tapping the trees out in the “sugarbush,” we went to the sugar shack to visit with Fred the Sugarmaster and learn how the sap is boiled to get rid of the water, concentrate and caramelize the sugar, and transformed into magical, powerful syrup and sugar. Please ask your child to describe the process for you.
We also had a classroom session where we learned more of the ins and outs of maple sugaring–where it happens, how it was discovered, how the methods have changed over the years, old and contemporary equipment, etc. We ended the tour with vanilla ice cream drizzled with delicious maple syrup, made by Fred in the sugar shack. It was awesome.
This weekend, March 2 and 3, the Indian Creek Nature Center is holding their annual Maple Syrup Festival, and I highly recommend taking your family up there (or going by yourself if necessary) for all-you-want-to-eat pancakes and syrup and demonstrations of the many methods of sugaring, including boiling the sap in hollow logs using fire-heated rocks. I love that way. Learn more about their festival at www.IndianCreekNatureCenter.org. If you can’t make it this weekend, I definitely hope you can go there sometime soon. It’s a very cool place if you like nature.
We spent the afternoon in true Taproot fashion, throwing and building with the snow, climbing trees both standing and fallen, playing Capture the Flag (which is great exercise any time but especially in tall, snowy grass and winter boots), spotting a raccoon sleeping in a hollow tree, drawing in the snow and making designs with dark sand, wrestling, breaking ice, and splashing sticks in the clear cold water of the creek. On a sandbar next to the Cedar River, we spent five minutes sitting or lying silently in the snow, each kid far from the next. Crows, eagles, and geese were easy to spot and hear, and if you looked carefully you could see small birds flitting in the trees. The snow had just started to fall, and the river flowed powerfully but peacefully by. Also powerful but not at all peaceful, a three-engine train roared past nearby, and it was interesting to follow it’s approach using sound and scattering crows, long before we could see the actual train. It was quiet before the train, and Melanie noted how our attention drifted here and there, all around, but while the train was there all eyes and ears were on it. Then after it was gone, things seemed even quieter than before.
As the snow fell heavier, we decided to get back to Iowa City and arrived at Happy Hollow with enough time to sled a little, build a small fire, and roast some marshmallows. It was a great day and Michele, Melanie, and I are grateful to have spent it with your excellent children. We hope to see you all again soon!
Taproot Nature Experience
2363 305th Street
North English, Iowa 52316