The sap is running. The maples are tapped. Five gallons collected already.
They go outside to check the containers and find themselves pulled toward the stream, pulled by its frozen allure, pulled by sound of the trickle of water over and around the stones of the ford, pulled by the desire to smash the ice, even as they stand on it.
Snow covers the frozen stream; it is no longer smooth and skate-worthy. It's crunchy, and it echoes underneath in the space between the flowing water and the ice ceiling. But in most places, the ice is still several inches thick, so they walk along it anyway, occasionally stepping onto the banks of the stream where it has cracked, following the tracks of deer who smartly skip from the bank of one side to the safety on the other side.
They walk to the island, then they keep going--all the way to the marshy pond, where cattails rise up out of the ice like an army protecting its territory with seed head ammunition exploding into fluff.
She thinks the marshy pond would be better named the cemetery of trees, for it is populated by dead trees. The year they moved here, beavers dammed up the stream, flooded the marshy pond, and built a lodge. Evidence of strong teeth is everywhere. He points to one such tree, a foot and a half in diameter, gnawed down on one side by the industrious beavers.
"What were they thinking?" he asks. "How did they expect to move that?"
Optimism! she thinks.
While they examine beaver industry, young arms whack smaller trees with sticks. The spindly trees fall, which is even more satisfying than breaking up the ice on the stream.
One of the dead trees has been spray-painted with the word "BUTTER." The one next to it spells out "GOD." This reminds her of other graffiti in places she's been: "Make tea, not war." "17 1/2 minutes of Nixon buried here."
They wander through the cattails, through the dead trees, through the snow and ice. They hear a woodpecker clattering away in the distance. Spring approaches.
But for now, it is still cold.
And it is time to leave the cattail army, the graffiti-trees.
The sun shines down from its blue heaven, and for just a moment, all is right in her small world.