The Maple Moon or Moon of the Worm
March is a month of transition between winter and spring, often with an unpredictable season almost all its own. The temperatures in Upstate New York can range from an unusually warm 80 F down to sub zero Fahrenheit. This pulsating tension between the cold winter and warmer weather patterns and increasing daylight coincides with the vernal equinox, the Pascal Moon, and the Easter season to the European mind.
Before the French explorers of the 16th century and English, French, and Dutch settlers of the 17th century, the indigenous peoples knew the full moon near the equinox as the Worm Moon. This was when the worms started bringing castings to the surface, and robins started to reappear after their winter's absence.
There were other names for the moon by some tribes. The Crow Moon honored the late winter flocking of crows. In the far north, the Crusty Moon recognized the particular hard crusting of snow in late winter. Some tribes came to call it Sap or Maple Moon. This latter name evolved from the rising flow of the sap as days start to warm and winter changes to spring in fits and starts.
Early origins of Maple
The exact origins of the discovery of maple sap and its distillation, or processing, into syrup is impossible to determine with any firm historical accuracy. While a few authorities think the processing of the sap was taught to the Indians by the Europeans, they are in the minority. Most historians believe that various indigenous tribes had a knowledge of this sweet prior to contact with the Europeans. Lack of firm archeological proof and a lack of written records from the various tribes leave the debate open to conjecture and dispute, though there is much to support that the Indians did know about, and use this sweet, albeit in a much cruder fashion than is common today.
Maple trees observed during his explorations of Quebec were written about by Jacques Cartier in 1540. Recognition of the Indians using the refined sap as sugar and syrup dates from about 1557 in writings of Andre Thevet. Details of collection and distillation of sap by the Micmac Indians of eastern Canada were noted by Marc Lescarbot in 1606.
Before the Europeans came, the eastern woodlands were populated by numerous tribes with similar customs. From eastern Canada, Quebec, and New England to the Great Lakes states, they celebrated many of the same moons and seasonal festivals, and ate mostly the same types of game. These varied but slightly from region to region. They often, however, spoke distinct languages in various language groups.
Indian Legends on the Origins of Maple Syrup
There is a common myth, with many tribal variations, that the Creator originally made life too easy for his People, with maple trees having a syrup that flowed year round. One day, Glooskap (this name has many variations) arrived at a village and found it strangely quiet. No children or dogs came to greet him, the gardens were over grown with weeds, and the cooking fires were dead. He found the villagers lying in the maple grove, with the delicious sap running into their mouths from the trees.
Glooskap had special powers. Using a birch bark bucket, filled with water from lake, he rose above the trees and filled the trees with water until the sap ran thin. Then he encouraged his People of the village with a fiery speech. In this exhortation, he berated them for being lazy, and said as punishment the Creator was going to have the sap run only in the late winter. But, he urged them to take heed that when this happened, they would still be able to enjoy this special sweet, though only at this special time of year.
Another legend tells that an Algonquin or Iroquois Indian chief, Woksis, discovered this sweet sap in the following manner. One day, at the time the time of the melting snow, as he prepared to go hunting in a meager season of want and little game, he took his ax out of a maple tree where he had struck it a few inches into the bark the night before. His squaw happened to have a wooden or birch bark basket underneath, which collected the sap. Thinking that her warrior husband had filled it already with water, the squaw Moqua used the sap to cook some meat, most likely venison, though one source says moose meat. Upon his return, he was surprised by the sweet odor of the cooking meat. When eaten, the meat was sweet. They soon realized that this sweetness came from the sap of the maple tree.
While details are sketchy, this evolved into an annual festival of sorts, celebrated in traditional ways by the Onondagas in Central New York as recently as the 1940s. While this time of year was usually called the Worm Moon, some tribes began to call it the Maple Moon.
Soon they began to have a maple festival to celebrate this sweet that was available only during this time of change from winter to spring. Maple sap and syrup became a major source of sweetening, rivaling honey. Both of these sweets were an important food to the Iroquois., comprising about 12% of their diet.
Indian Methods of Sap Collection and Syrup Production
Lacking metal working capabilities prior to the European contact, the Iroquois methods of obtaining and evaporating the sap were crude. They hacked or gouged the tree with hatchets or axes, which often killed the tree. They used bowls, of ceramic or white birch bark to collect sap. Different bowls of pottery or wood, usually troughs of hollowed out trunks, were used for boiling the sap. They placed hot stones from the fires into the containers of sap. This brought the sap to a boil. The hot stones were periodically replaced to continue the process. Occasionally, if conditions were ideal, they froze the sap, peeling off the frozen surface daily. They threw away the ice and ate the residue underneath.
Maple season was fleeting and unpredictable, and it remains so to this day. High quality syrup production requires warm days to about 45 F or so alternating with nights below freezing. If days are exceptionally warm, or too many nights remain above freezing, the quality of the sap collected and the syrup produced suffers. There are large variations of the sap run, from nine days to 57 days, the average being 37 days of collection.
European Adaptations and Expansion of Maple Production
During the almost two centuries of contact the Iroquois and Algonquins had with the French, English, and Dutch, the Europeans learned about this maple production, and started to make improvements with their superior technologies. The fickleness of nature cooperating by providing sufficiently warm days and sub-freezing nights resulted in the attempts at moving maple syrup production into Virginia by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, among others, to be modestly successful at best, and finally abandoned. Maple production was much better quality and more reliable in New England, New York, and Quebec. While maple syrup production has occurred at one time or another in some 30 (present) US states, it was, and is, more common and of better quality in the north.
By the time of American Independence and subsequent dispersal of most of the Indians from the northeast, the Europeans had evolved methods of improved production of the maple sap and its sweet products that only very gradually changed over the next century and a half. It became a northeastern tradition of the short transitional season between winter and spring that provided a sweet loved by most Americans to this day.
The Maple Weekends in March in New York that have become increasingly popular in recent years owe their existence to the accidental discovery of this tasty treat by an Indian chief several centuries ago. As such, it is an important part of our historical heritage, as well as the specific natural conditions in our region that make it possible.
References - Books
Lawrence, James M., and Martin, Rux. Sweet Maple: Life, Lore & Recipes From the Sugarbush. Shelburne, Vermont: Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1993. Co published by Vermont Magazine, Montpelier, Vermont, 1993.
Klees, Emerson. Legends and Stories of the Finger Lakes Region. Rochester, NY: Friends of Finger Lakes Publishing, 1995
Schery, Robert W. Plants for Man. Englewoods CLiffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., C.1952, 4th printing 1959.
The Old Farmers's Almanac, editions for 2008, 2009, 2010. Yankee Publishing, Dublin, NH.
References - Internet
The Natural world Full Moon Names and Dates
Wakarusa (Indiana) Maple Syrup Festival
One Iroquois Legend
A Sure Sign of Spring in New York State
Maple Syrup production is largely restricted to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. This is the natural range of sugar and black maple, the two most commonly tapped species. Silver and red maple sap is higher in water content and provides a poorer quality end product.
There is little doubt that the Iroquois and other woodland Indians knew about the maple sap. There are several legends of just how they discovered this sweet, an important seasonal addition to their diet. As they lacked metal tools prior to European contact, their means of collection and refining maple sap were crude.
The European settlers gradually improved upon Indian methods of collecting and refining sap in many ways. These evolved into "traditional" ways of producing syrup that were pretty standard for perhaps a century or more. Only in the latter half of the 20th century did most producers go "hi-tech" in production methods that are commonly used today. However, some small producers and museums still produce small amounts of syrup using largely pre-mechanized methods. This is largely for the benefit of tourists and visitors, placing the methods of production in historical context.
Maple Producers and Festivals in New York State
New York State is the second leading producer of maple syrup, second only to Vermont. According to statistics from the New York State Maple Producers Association, about 1500 producers statewide, with nearly 1.5 million taps made 332,000 gallons of syrup in 2008. The average cost per gallon of finished syrup was $33.50 in 2007. The final value of the crop was about $7.5 million, with an impact of $30 million on the New York State economy.
According the published statistics in the Utica Observer-Dispatch of March 18, 2009, maple syrup production in selected counties was as follows in 2005:
Oneida County: 32 producers with 2,100 gallons of syrup.
Herkimer County: 19 producers with 1,400 gallons of syrup.
Lewis County: 141 producers with 30,000 gallons of syrup.
Many small maple sugar producers have in recent years had small scale maple festivals at this time of year. Producers and historical museums often sponsor special events and demonstrations. The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown has Sugaring Off Sundays, with breakfast (pancakes and maple syrup, of course) and maple syrup production demonstrations. The Herkimer Home outside Little Falls had its 34th annual maple celebration on the first weekend in April 2009. Other museums or producers have had such programs usually in late March and early April.
New York State Maple Producers Association.
What began in the late 1990s as a one day event promoting maple products by a small group of Wyoming County maple producers has evolved into a festival celebrated across New York State. This effort has been coordinated by the New York State Maple Producers Association. Over 100 large and small producers from over 40 counties participate on the last two weekends in March. Typically, there are pancake breakfasts, sales of syrup and candy, and demonstrations on past or current production methods. A list of participating producers is available from their web site listed in references below.
With this regional agricultural product, the maple industry in New York State is on the verge of expanding quite rapidly. Such coordination of an industry that is historically and commercially important is important to its success as an industry. If people in this area are committed to promoting tourism, whether to local residents or outside visitors, this is a model to be studied as largely successful in the general field of local agriculture.
There is discussion of local maple producers banding together even more and forming a cooperative in Northern New York for bottling and packaging of their maple products. This would provide the largely rural maple producers a more effective means of getting their products to market, as well as providing jobs to an area with limited employment.
The American Maple Museum
In Crohgan, New York (northeast of Lowville on State Route 812), this museum is one of the few maple oriented places that is open outside of maple sap season. The museum presents one of the largest collections of vintage equipment used in maple production over the years. They open Memorial Day to late June on Friday, Saturday and Monday, and daily except Sunday July 1 to around Labor Day. Their web site is a good source of information on all aspects of historical and current maple sap collection and processing.
The maple industry in New York State is on the verge of tremendous expansion. If such a cooperative comes into existence, it could expand the impact of maple sugar products on the local and regional agricultural economy. In any event, the maple sap season of late February to mid April is a seasonal activity which clearly marks the transition from winter to spring in the Upper Mohawk Country of New York State.
New York State Maple Producers Web Site, Maple Weekend http://www.mapleweekend.com/index.html
Utica Observer-Dispatch, March 18, 2009
Maple Museum, Croghan
Lawrence, James M., and Martin, Rux. Sweet Maple: Life, Lore & Recipes From the Sugarbush. Shelburne, Vermont: Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1993. Co published by Vermont Magazine, Montpelier, Vermont, 1993
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.
Orignally published on critters360.com
The flash of an all red bird seen in a hedgerow or thicket, or at an open tree- top perch is easily recognized as the northern cardinal. Commonly called just cardinal, it is one of the best-known birds in eastern North America. Its bright vermillion red color and crested head make it unmistakable. It adds a brilliant touch of color to the drabness of late fall, or hedges and snow- covered ground of winter.
Range of the Northern Cardinal
The formal name for Cardinalis cardinalis in English is the Northern Cardinal, This is curious, as it was historically a southern bird. Other common names in the past include crested redbird, Kentucky cardinal, and Virginia nightingale. Its popularity has made it the state bird of North Carolina, Virginia and five Ohio Valley states.
The range of the northern cardinal has expanded northward since the mid 20th century. It is now common throughout the east from New Brunswick to Florida and west to the to the Great Plains east of the Rockies, Texas, into Arizona and much of Mexico. The Great Lakes are a general northern boundary of its range in the Midwest.
The northern cardinal has a distinctive crested head, with a short conical beak designed for cracking seeds. It is about 7.5 to 9 inches long, with a wingspan of about 10 inches. A black mask offsets the brilliant red of the male. This surrounds its bright orange-red beak, extending into the eye and the throat. The female is duller in color, a buffy olive green with red streaks on the wing and tail. The black mask on the female is not quite as extensive as on the male. The young birds are similar to the female in coloration.
Cardinals are non-migratory, remaining within their range year round. This does not mean, however, that the individuals seen at the feeder are the same that might breed in the neighborhood. During breeding season they are usually seen singly or in pairs, while in winter they may be in small flocks. Their nesting territory is usually from a few acres to a city block or two in area.
Prior to breeding, as with many other birds, the male will often chase the female. He will also fight males that are invading his territory. Either of these circumstances might involve swooping flight, not as commonly seen during the rest of the year.
Nesting and Young
The female builds the nest. It is loosely constructed of small twigs, bark, weed stems, and leaves, held together by grass, fine rootlets, or horsehair. This is most commonly found about three to ten feet above the ground in thickets, hedgerows, cedars, and grape arbors, but could be as high as 30 feet in a fork of tree branches. There are usually 2 to 4 eggs, bluish or greenish-white with flecks of buff, chestnut, brown or purple.
The incubation period is just under two weeks, incubation usually done by the female. The young are altricial, or completely helpless, when hatched. Both parents feed them during the 9-11 days of confinement to the nest before fledging. Northern cardinals typically have two to three broods a year, with perhaps four broods in southern areas of its range.
Natural Food and Bird Feeders
The northern cardinal eats a wide variety of fruit, seeds, grasses, and grains. Sunflower seeds are a favorite food. It may take sap from holes in trees made by woodpeckers. Insects form about a third of its diet. These include cicadas, boll weevils, scale insects, beetles, and various caterpillars.
It feeds from trees or thickets at times, but is frequently seen foraging on the ground under feeders or sunflowers. At the feeder, the northern cardinal likes seeds and suet, especially sunflower seeds. It is usually the first bird seen at the winter feeder in the dim twilight before dawn, and often the last bird seen near dusk.
Calls and Songs
The northern cardinal has a wide variety of songs. Most common is a descending “what cheer … what cheer…” often in pairs, sometimes three to five times. This is often immediately followed by a “whoit-whoit-whoit-whoit” that ascends in pitch. This might also be transliterated as an ascending “Cheer-up, cheer-up.” These two syllables (or perhaps more accurately described as a one syllable diphthong) are repeated several times in rapid succession. Sometimes the second part of the call is a more rapid short clear trill, repeated perhaps 20 times over two or three seconds.
Most songs are clear whistles with distinctive tremolo. Parts of the songs seem to either ascend or descend in pitch, but remain a very clear and bright whistle. While there are many variations, these songs are easily learned with a little careful observation. Frequently, their songs continue for several minutes from a tree top perch. With their bright red color, they are easily seen from this usually exposed location.
A single note call is more commonly heard when the bird is foraging in thickets or trees. This is a single sharp “pik” or “chip” sometimes in a cluster of two or three notes, but often with several seconds between notes, repeated several times per minute. This is also commonly heard in cedars and hedges near dusk.
While they call year round, the northern cardinal is heard more frequently starting about mid-February in my upstate New York location. From late winter until mid August they are usually an early singer, starting perhaps a half hour before sunrise. This singing continues for most of the day. Less frequently heard in mid afternoon, they begin singing again in earnest about two hours before sunset until just past sunset.
A common visitor to winter bird feeders, the northern cardinal is usually silent during these visits. Sunflower seeds are sure to attract his bright red colors to the often-drab winter scenery. When one begins to hear more frequently the “cheer-up” call in late winter, it is time to follow his advice. Cheer up. Spring cannot be too far behind after surviving another long northern winter.
Alsop, Fred J. III. Smithsonian Handbooks: Birds of North America, New York: DK Publishing, 2001.
Mahnken, Jan. The Backyard Bird-Lovers Guide , Storey Communications, 1998 ISBN 0-87596-804-X
Pearson, T. Gilbert, Editor. Birds of America, 1936, Doubleday & Company.
Peterson, Roger Tory. A Field Guide to the Birds, 1980. (Eastern North America)
Proctor, Noble, PhD. Song Birds: How to Attract Them and Identify Their Songs.
Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1988.
Northern Cardinals Sounds, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornitholody
Northern Cardinal Identification – All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Bird song sample and range map