I gathered sap by starlight and a waning moon. The storms so long snagged upon our ragged mountain tops had finally torn free and slipped out into the quiet valley in the late hours of the day, out across to the Eastern Shore, to disperse into the vast Atlantic. Now there was only the sharpened tree tops reaching up as if trying to grab the glistening stars from an indigo sky.
I had to gather or sap would be lost in the night. The weather had fluxed enough to make the trees massive roots begin their powerful job of sucking great quantities of water from the Earth's wet soil. Forcing it up through the groggy trunks then down into the roots again as the temperatures dropped off. An early wake up call, a nudge to say that Spring would soon come to the mountains.
I turned my eyes from the sky to the dark woods that I was about to enter. In the night's dark tricks, the trail ahead looked like a tunnel of black. The ground was crunching as setting cold began to crust the earth. I closed my eyes a moment to let them get use to the darkness. When I opened them I sucked in a deep breath. Single drops, left behind by the storm, hung on every limb and twig and scattered on the ground. The drops freezing into perfect crystals to catch the scarce and precious light. A million tiny lanterns to mirror the stars above. I did not move for a moment, all I could do was take in the world, sparkling, deep into the stretching forest.
It was a sound that finally made me move. Somewhere deep up the dark trail ahead of me, beyond even the light of enchanted ice crystals and starlight. Something large and slow.
"A bear" I whispered to myself? Something, and I decided I should not discover what on my own, in the dark. I gathered quickly through the trees, stopping now and then to listen. Nothing! I turned for the open field and headed for the yellow glow of the house beyond. I heard the movement in the forest far behind me. What ever it was, it seemed unhurried. Probably a bear moving slowly along the black trail, just looking for something to eat. Not me though! I was stepping within the glowing halo of the houses' light. Glancing back, the world beyond my force field of light seemed much darker then it had just moments before. There was something though, large and dark just at the farthest edges of the lights reach. Could be anything in the nights dark magic, a bush, a pool of deeper shadow cast by a trunk. I would consider it later I thought and headed for solid walls.
Cold night air and warm sweet air swirled crazily as the front door swung open. I dropped the buckets beside the stove and began to fill the sugar pans. The steam rose up in sweet waves into my face, chasing away the cold that still clung to the skin. I could not take my thoughts from the starlight and crystals of the world outside the door or the "something' in the dark. It was very early for bear. I would have to look for sign in the morning light. But for now, it was time to stoke the fires hot and cook syrup late into the night.