by Sierra Ret, Age 16, Canada
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
How do I know I know I’m a writer? That was one of the many questions I was asking myself one freezing afternoon, but to be honest it wasn’t the most pressing. Truthfully, I was far more concerned with how I was going collect today’s yield of tree sap without falling flat on my face.
It was supposed to be spring––the calendar said so. March 20th, first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. But the glacier of ice and snow I was grimly trying to stagger through clearly couldn’t care less.
I shuffled around the back of the chicken coop towards my target, a tree some ten feet away. My gait was awkward for two reasons––first, I was carrying a heavy plastic bucket in one hand, and secondly because one of my socks was inching its way off my foot inside one of my heavy oversized rain boots. Icy snow crystals trickled down into my leg and gleefully melted on my bare skin. Beastly things.
Finally arriving at the tree, I gingerly set my bucket down beside it while being careful not to let its contents slosh on the ground. A spigot jutted out from the trunk, and from it, clear maple sap dripped out with interminable slowness into the container hanging from it. It wasn’t one of those nice metal pails you see in pictures or in sugar bush tourist attractions, but an unglamorous vinegar jug. Nowhere near as picturesque as in the sugar bushes, but no less effective. Better even, at keeping the flies out. I smirk as I imagine most peoples’ horror upon learning that hundreds of dead bugs had drowned in the sap that eventually gets poured on their Saturday morning pancakes.
My smile disappeared as I struggled to wrestle the jug off the spigot. Clearly the hole on this one wasn’t drilled in the right place. ‘Wrestling with a stubborn sap bucket…,’ no, too awkward. ‘Laboriously harvesting maple sap,’ perhaps?
I finally wrenched the jug off the spigot by turning in on a ridiculous angle and tugging, then stooped and started to pour the sap into my bucket. The stream of liquid splashed into the surface and some drops sprayed into the snow. I hurriedly adjusted the jug. It looks like nothing more than water, but each drop of sap is precious. ‘Liquid diamonds boiled into gold.’ That’s almost poetic.
It only took a moment to fit the container back on the tree, and I turned to trudge back to the house with my now-full bucket. My progress was even slower this time. To trip on a hidden object in the snow now would be disaster. ‘Wading through two feet of snow to collect maple syrup.’ How much more Canadian can that get? A suitable conclusion for an article on syrup making.
The last thought finally registers properly. I have, as foreign as it seems to me, been making notes and filing away my experiences for writing since I stepped outside.
How do I know I’m a writer? Most of the time, I don’t. I struggle to express myself coherently, agonize over awkward sentences, and criticize my work until I convince myself the entire piece is rubbish. In short, I feel hopelessly inadequate.
But there are some moments, perhaps when your work is accepted, or someone confesses your story made them cry, or when you’re standing in the snow and you realize you’ve been mentally writing while collecting maple sap, when you realize you just might have the mind of a writer after all.
Sierra has been an LTC Insider Plus+ member since October 2014. She wrote this piece for one of our weekly writing challenges.