When I left for the retreat last Thursday there was snow on the ground and winter in the air. Just four days later I returned to warm sunshine and crocus buds pushing up through the earth.
With the timing of both my trip and the flu, we fell markedly behind on cooking down the maple sap. This is fine when it's consistently cold, but once things warm up the sap will quickly sour. And so, with the slightest edge of overwhelm, I assigned myself the task of getting us caught up.
Sage and I worked together lugging buckets of sap from the deck to the fire, as Lupine found firewood and collected kindling. The sap was poured, the fire was kindled, and benches and chairs were found. And the three of us gathered there, soaking in the birdsong and the smell of woodsmoke.
As it turns out, "Getting caught up" meant parking myself beside the fire for all hours of the day upon my return, and the kids happily joined me there, from breakfast until dusk. Again and again we spiraled outward, then circled back to the warmth of the fire.
Monday, our first homeschooling since the retreat, was spent here - learning, exploring, and talking - together. Farm babies were cuddled, fairy houses - and smoke bombs - were made, projects were restarted, stories were shared, and warm-weather interests were rediscovered.
All of it unfolding quietly around the maple fire.
We called it a homeschooling "day off", but so much learning transpired there that it was certainly more than we could have managed around the table.
The kids happily collected sap and gathered firewood, and we found our center again after my few days away. We dug some leftovers out of the freezer for dinner (because why go inside and cook?) and our time beside the fire expanded into evening.
These slow, quiet days are among my favorites. These are what I hope to recall when I look back on this chapter of my life.
And with that in mind, I skipped work on Tuesday and we did it all again.
After these two days beside the fire, the pantry is slowly filling with carefully sealed jars of syrup. Yet somehow I feel that the syrup we made was the least of our yields from this time beside the fire. A happy bonus, perhaps, but not our main harvest.
Connection, learning, and the welcoming of spring are filling much more than our pantry.
And maybe - just maybe - we'll do it all again tomorrow.