Before facilitating strategic planning meetings, I pass around a bowl of maple syrup candies made in the town of Lutsen, home to some of the few mountains that Minnesota can claim. The candies are quickly consumed as I describe how maple syrup is harvested. When I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina last week, I did the same.
Maple syrup can only be harvested in the spring when the nights are cold and the days are warm. The process of freezing and thawing creates a sort of pump within the tree. That’s when you can drill a small hole into the tree and hammer in a tap. There was a time when people simply cut into the bark to gather the sap, but using an auger and tap was later found to be less destructive.
A bucket is then hung on each tap to collect the sap. Over the course of the season, just a few weeks long in Minnesota, the sap is then boiled to make syrup, candies, and other forms of delicious.
To say that it is boiled is, in fact, an understatement. The University of Vermont says (and I trust their maple credibility without question) that “the number of gallons of sap you need to produce one gallon of syrup is equal to 86 gallons divided by the percent of sugar. So if you start with sap that is 2 percent sugar, you would need to evaporate 43 gallons to water (86 gallons/2 percent = 43 gallons) to make one gallon of syrup.”
The short math: That’s a whole lot of sap.
Harvesting and processing maple syrup is not wholly unlike planning and implementing plans. Timing is important. The temperature of the environment matters. You need the right tools. Hacking into it isn’t sustainable. There are a million things to consider before deciding anything. And it requires a great deal of time and patience to make anything worth delivering.
And that’s why I pass the bowl.
“Bosnia has been boiling a long time,” one participant said a bit ruefully.
Yes, but let me tell you a story, I said, as I often do. When I was young, my dad, a man of many hobbies, decided that we would harvest sap to make candies that year. Selectively patient, at some point he abandoned the boiling sap for too long, and as a result our home smelled of burnt maple syrup for days. Well, the syrup of the sugar maple’s cousin, the box elder tree, to be more accurate.
“So as long as you supervise the boiling,” I said, “then Bosnia won’t burn.”
“A slow boil,” someone else said sagely.
The metaphor may hit a little too close to home for Bosnians. There, the timing never seems right or there’s not enough of it. The political climate is generally overcast with a slow drizzle that quickly freezes on the roads. The tools are being built as they’re being used. The whole thing feels like a hack-job. A million things are all being yelled at the same time. And patience is wearing thin.
It’s hard to imagine candy coming out of all that.
So, as we fast approach the proverbial season of joy and giving, I can’t help but think of what the maple can teach us about love. When we’re with our friends and families in the coming weeks, let’s remember that cold and warmth each have their place. That nothing true can be forced. That everyone is going through something. And that patience in moderation can reap dividends far beyond our appetite.
I know that I’ll be boiling down my gallons of blessings over the coming weeks. But the candy won’t taste any sweeter now, because I’ve been enjoying it all year.