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  • Writer's pictureJean Linville

Maple Syrup & Artistic Process

flow v.i. Glide along as stream; circulate; (of talk, style, etc.) move easily; (of dress etc.) hang easily; gush out; be in flood. n. flowing; rise of tide; copious supply. (The Little Oxford Dictionary, 1969).

I have been reflecting on “flow” a lot lately. This most recent revere has been prompted by the swelling tree buds and sap buckets that are dotting the sky and the trunks of trees of my local landscape. The buckets signify one of my favorite times of year, sap season.

The act of tapping a tree must be done with care, attention to detail and an awareness of the rhythms of the local weather. Once the taps are in place and the buckets are slid into place, the magical combination of trees and the emergence of spring is revealed. Flow. A soft metal “ping” can be heard if one listens carefully between the staccato chirps of the cardinals vying for attention from each other as a slow drip begins to exit the tree tap and hit the bottom of the metal sap buckets. The rhythm steadily increases until a clear, slightly sweet stream of sugary energy is formed. The flowing sap gives us a window into the magical movement that is occurring beneath the tree’s bark. The flow of sap begins when the tips of the branches call for this storehouse of energy that was stored away for winter. Once it reaches the heights of the tree, it will be used to form buds, flowers and leaves.

It took the vision and creativity of some person, generations upon generations removed from me, to figure out that this energy source for the trees could also be a delightful treat for humans, maple syrup. Once gathered from the tree, sap is boiled in shallow pans until most of the water content has been evaporated. A tree must give up approximately 40 gallons of its food source in order for us to make a single a gallon of maple syrup. It is a fact that I try to remind myself of as I swirl some into my tea on this rain-chilled spring morning as well as all the other times I use this mineral-rich “gift of the trees” whether it be drizzling it on my pancakes in winter, ice cream in summer or baking it into fall muffins. Yum! Thank you trees!

On the surface, making maple syrup is not a complex process: gather, boil, eat. But “In fact, syrup production is physically demanding, labor intensive, time-consuming, and messy” ( To me, this sounds exactly like my artistic process.


“Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems. Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted. An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult or dangerous. But how do such experiences happen? Occasionally flow may occur by chance, because of a fortunate coincidence of external and internal conditions.” (Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990, p.71)

I am currently engaged in creating work for an upcoming exhibition in 2020. To many it would seem that I am starting this way too early and that it really shouldn’t be too difficult to do. A simple process: make art, hang art, enjoy the fruits of your labors. Well in fact, making art is physically and mentally demanding, labor intensive, time-consuming and almost always, at least in my case, messy. Sounds pretty similar to the sugaring process. Maybe that is why I love maple syrup so much! So, why as an artist do I do it? I think my answer is both tree and human related. Just as input from the environment and the tree’s own cells signal to it that it is time to create something, I too experience a very similar phenomenon. It is a quest for a steady flow of input and inspiration from my local environs that will eventually coalesce into a sugary rush of creation. And like the sugarer, while in the flow of creation, time for me seems to evaporate into the air and all the work, mess and tired back muscles are more than worth the thrill of creation. Time to open up a can of my current favorite beverage and head to my studio to let the sap and the creative energy flow.

spring morning

pale, porcelain skin

a shoulder presses against

warm, rough bark

arm and branch together

fingertips circle a limb

index finger meets thumb

spirit and sap mingle

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