Let me go back a few days to when I first started tapping for the season and tell you about an interesting fellow we met along the trail. I was really excited about setting my first taps for the year. The morning was cold, but warm temps were coming in a few hours . I could not wait any longer for " sugar fever was a burning in me so.' I hurried out with my tapping gear leaving Lakota, my son, to eat breakfast with his grandma. The sky was deep blue and the ground was covered with an inch of a sparkling , crystal snow that seemed almost magical in the way it sparkled in the bright morning sun. I tapped a few trees, then ran out of jugs ( yes, jugs, I use milk jugs for some of my close by trees) and returned to the house to get more and to get Lakota. In a few minutes he was trotting along beside me, his yellow curls bouncing up and down and his tinkling voice scorning me for having gone without him earlier. He soon forgot his grudge ."Oooh, twacks," he whispered as he leaned low to the fine, sparkling snow.
" Yes, many tracks today" I said.
"Lets see! What kind? " he bent even lower till his nose was a few inches above the prints and his butt was high in the air. He straitened suddenly, looking up at me, pleased. "I think they barrr twacks", he announced.
"Bear! Really? Kitty I think. Very tiny kitty", I said.
He squinted unkindly at me and shook his head.
"Really! Kitty! Now see there's, dog tracks", I pointed. We walked the rest of the way to the maples I had tapped, looking at the different tracks on the ground. Near the edge of the woods we found some small, perfect, hand like prints.
"Opossum", I told him."They have hands almost like yours."
"Monkeys", he announced.
"Not monkeys. Really, they are possum tracks", I said. He gave me another very displeased look. I began working, Lakota began talking, about everything. A few minutes later I looked up from the tree I was tapping and just 3 feet away a black eyed opossum looked back from the sapling beside me. A small dark eyed, young possum, pretty as possums go with a soft, fuzzy coat of gray. Lakota saw it also.
"Wellll loooky there" he said. " A dog!'
"Not a dog, A possum", I told him. He looked at me for a moment as if deciding if I was telling him another lie.
"Well looky there", he said finally, " A poss-M. Well hello little possum. You are just a baby possum. Oh cooochy cooochy coo, little possum". He made little wiggly finger motions in the air at the possum as if tickling him from a far. I quickly warned him not to tickle the possum for real as the possum would not really like to be tickled and might bite him. I went back to work, he went back to air tickling the possum, then just talking to him. He chatted like a little bird to his new friend, telling him with a tinkling voice and dancing hands about everything that is important to little boys, chickens that laid big brown eggs, cartoons, places in the yard were he plays with imaginary dinosaurs and sisters that don't agree with him. When I would look over, the black eyed possum, sitting on a small branch, would be quietly listening to the small boy with the yellow hair. The critter seemed remarkably unafraid and very interested in all the bird- like chatter. His way was not blocked and he could go at any time, but he did not as if mesmerized by his new friend. Lakota went on to explain why Mommy was" dwillen" holes in the trees and that "maple serrriP" would run right out of the holes, and that was why he ( the possum) would see jugs every where on all the" tweees."
Soon I was done tapping and finally convinced Lakota we had to leave our new friend alone and go back inside. Once inside he grabbed his grandmas' hand.
" Let's go Gran'ma. I's got something to show you."
Well he drug his grandma out to look for the possum that was by now long gone.
" We can follow his tracks", Grandma suggested and off they went following perfect hand prints in the fine snow, through the woods. Tracks that led to other trees that we had tapped, by the chicken coop where big brown eggs were laid, through the yard where Lakota liked to play with imaginary dinosaurs and back into the woods again. After a bit Grandma went off one way and Lakota the other.
"Gran'ma, yous going the wrong way", he calls "Hinton did not go that way. He went this-a way"
" Who's Hinton", she asks? Lakota rolled his eyes.
"The poss-M, Gran'ma.", he tells her. "But you don't has to call him Hinton if you don't like. Yous can call him Puppy Lickens' for short."
Of course Grandma is telling me about this later, or trying to, for she is laughing to hard to hardly get words out. Every day for a week, as we would go out to gather sap or tap more trees, we would find tiny, perfect little hand like prints in the crystal snow, following along every trail, to every tree we had tapped. Puppy Lickens' as he is now known, does not seem to ever bother with any tap, just comes to within a few feet of the tree and stops. You can see where he sits, and checks out the tree, maybe waiting to see the syrup run out as promised. Then he moves on along beside our tracks, always beside like he is being careful to follow the large foot prints, to the next tree that has been tapped. If I tap a new one, his tracks are there the next day. Now I can no longer walk along the trail with these small prints following and not wonder at the intelligence and curiosity of this small being. I cannot help but wonder what he must be thinking. This little fuzzy fellow, that met a little yellow haired fellow along the trail one day. A little yellow haired fellow that chattered like a song bird and passed along all kinds of interesting news to the fuzzy fellow about the trail they both shared. For all I know now his name really is Hinton, his nick name has always really been Puppy Lickens' and there is more magic then I ever guessed in the crystal snow and small talk of little souls that meet along the sugar trail.