Last week, the frogs began singing loudly and a thunderstorm brought about the end of peepoonki ‘winter’ and the beginning of neepinwiki ‘summer.’ In addition to putting away Aalhsoohkaana ‘Winter Stories’ we also closed out the 2021 Maple sugaring season. This year was a shortened season due to the unseasonably warm weather that we had in January. We collected just over 200 gallons of ahsenaamišipowi ‘Maple sap’ and made about five gallons of iihkisaminki ‘Maple syrup’ over three weeks this season.
As we wrapped up this year’s season, I was personally struck by the memory of the end of the 2020 season. Last year, in early March, we gathered together with our students in the lunchroom at the Myaamia Center to hold a feast of fresh Maple syrup, pancakes, and waffles. It was a lot of fun to sit around, share stories of the season, and enjoy the sweetness of our late winter labors. I particularly remember the students sharing their favorite TikTok videos with us and that the room was filled with a lot of laughter.
We also spoke at length about what we thought might happen as COVID neehseehpineenki continued to spread around the world. Spring break was about to begin at Miami University and we all wondered if the university would instruct students to remain at home after the end of the break. These musing turned out to be completely correct, but none of us were really prepared for what would follow. This Maple syrup feast turned out to be the last Myaamia community gathering that I was able to attend without masks or social distancing.
I asked a few of the students to share their thoughts about the end of the 2020 sugaring season. Josh McCoy wrote about the Maple syrup feast that “I just remember being there as a community joking around about what if they send us home for a month or something and then this happened.” In hindsight, Josh added, “it felt so stress free being with the community one last time before the pandemic.” Gretchen Spenn felt similarly writing that “personally, I remember being a little nervous about it all, but I was also kind of excited. I thought it would be a nice little break. A little “fun fact” I could bring up years down the line. I was so wrong.”
All of our summer and fall community gatherings were canceled due to COVID. The Miami Tribe did organize an Annual Meeting of the General Council of our tribe, but many of us were unable to attend. After a long and isolating winter it felt really good to be back out in our ahsenaamišahki ‘sugar bush’ on campus and working together as a community as we reconnected with our land, harvested many gallons of ahsenaamišipowi, and boiled that liquid down to make iihkisaminki. I personally felt a sense of sadness in the marking of the anniversary of this year of COVID neehseehpineenki and in reflecting on all that has been lost in terms of human life and community togetherness. However, this sense of loss was overpowered by the sense of joy I had being back outside with my family, hanging buckets, and carrying sap.
Our students also commented about how they felt as we returned to the ahsenaamišahki ‘the sugar bush’ this year. Grace Cooper replied that returning to sugaring “was a feeling of returning to where we left off. The last activity and memory of last year before we left campus and went into quarantine was collecting sap and boiling it down into syrup in Josh’s (Josh McCoy) dorm kitchen.” Josh agreed and added that the return of sugaring this year “allowed for even a small sense of normalcy in the still ever changing world and was really one of the first times in the last year the Myaamia community has been able to come together consistently!” Gretchen highlighted the strangeness that we were all feeling by adding “it was almost weird doing something the same way we did it last year.”
This spring, the students participating in Maple sugaring also noticed an increase in outdoor activity among all Miami University students. Grace observed that “the amount of students that we met on the trail who were reading our signs and wanted to know more was immense.” Josh wrote that this provided an opportunity to have “many conversations with students which really seemed to start bringing awareness to a bit of what was going on out here on campus.” This increased interaction outside of our Myaamia community extended into the boildown process where Grace wrote that “since we boiled the sap in our backyard almost all of our neighbors and even our landlords came out to ask what we were doing and through that we were able to share a lot of information about not only the process but also about the tribe and the relationship with the university.”
Looking forward, we all can see that the days are getting longer as we head towards Pahsaahkaahkanka ‘the Summer Solstice,’ the day in Paaphsaahka Niipinwiki ‘Midsummer’ Moon when the sun nearly divides the sky in half as it passes overhead. We can all feel that this year’s Solstice will be different from what we experienced last year. We can feel that the time is coming again soon when we can gather together as a community, celebrate our continuance as a people, and mourn our losses over the last year. We look forward to sharing the iihkisaminki ‘Maple syrup’ we made together this year with our community.