This morning, while the boys and I waited for Earlybird at speech, we brainstormed a possible legend behind the discovery of maple syrup. I got this idea from the first lesson in the maple sugaring unit in Project Seasons. (By the way, I cannot say enough good things about this book; even though it is geared toward a classroom full of kids, many activities can be adapted for homeschoolers.)
This activity continues our maple nature study, and also compliments our history nicely - we just finished reading a few versions of the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood. We've been talking about how legends are stories told throughout generations, and, while unverified, are believed to be based in historical truth in some way.
Before I get on with our story, though, I must tell you about a very neat thing that happened on our way out to speech. I had just gotten the boys all buckled in when I realized I'd forgotten my coffee. As I ran back up to the house, something bright orange on the lawn caught my eye. My first thought was that it looked just like a sugar maple leaf, but I chuckled at myself for thinking so, because A. we have no sugar maples growing nearby, and B. it is March, and even if we did have sugar maples growing nearby, they would have no leaves - let alone bright orange ones - at this time of year!
Figuring I just had maple trees on the brain, I walked over to check out the object more closely and almost fell over when I realized it was indeed a maple leaf - a silk maple leaf!! It must have blown off someone's wreath or garland or something - a long forgotten autumn decoration. And here it was, stranded in our yard, right in our very path - this week of all weeks! The boys found this very mysterious, and this curious happenstance set just the right imaginative tone for our morning lesson.
Anyway, now for our story! It was written primarily by Bookworm and Crackerjack, with just a bit of "prompting" now and again by me. ;) After we had all the details down on paper, I typed it up and printed it out for our nature notebook. You can see it there below on the right, embellished with that very leaf!
Once we were done with our own story, we read the well-known Algonquian Legend of Chief Woksis, as presented in Project Seasons. It's an interesting and probable story, but whoever discovered the "magic" inside the maple tree, we owe him (or her) a hearty thanks!
It was a sunny morning in late winter, when Gonswap, a young Native American boy was out hunting for the very first time on his own. Suddenly, he heard a strange tapping noise coming from over by the river. Curious, he went over to investigate and found a downy woodpecker tapping at a tree.
"Hello, Friend Downy," he said. "What are you doing?"
The bird looked at him, tilted its head to one side, and then went back to tapping. Gonswap wondered if it was making a nest because it was nearly spring, and he knew that woodpeckers make their nests by tapping holes in dead trees. But this tree was still alive, and the bugs would still be frozen in hibernation, so there couldn't be much to eat. What was it trying to do?
"What is it you are doing there?" Gonswap repeated, and this time the woodpecker flew to another tree and resumed his tapping.
Before following the bird further into the woods, Gonswap noticed that there was something dripping from the hole in the tree.
Sticking his finger into the drip, Gonswap tried some of the strange moisture and it tasted sort of sweet.
"Amazing," he thought. "This must be a magical tree of some kind, perhaps a special tree spirit!"
Gonswap decided to run back to Chief Checktoo and tell him all about it.
The Chief was quite interested in Gonswap's story so he sent three of his warriors back with the boy to bring some of this magical liquid back to camp.
Gonswap led the way, and after a time, the party reached the special tree. The warriors held a wooden bowl up to the hole that the woodpecker had made, and after some time they had collected enough liquid for the Chief to sample.
Back at camp, Chief Checktoo eagerly drank from the bowl, and afterward he licked his lips thoughtfully.
"Hmmmm," he said. "Tastes a bit like water, but sort of sweeter. Maybe it's just melted snow. I don't really think it's anything magical, but who knows ..."
He turned to Gonswap and handed him the bowl.
"Bring this to our cook and ask her to warm it over the fire. Then, I'll try it again."
So Gonswap brought the bowl of liquid to the cook and sat with her while it boiled over the fire. Soon something started to smell really good. After a little while the cook ladled the liquid out of the pot and into a bowl for the chief. Gonswap saw that the liquid was no longer clear like water, but dark brown in color. He worried what the chief might think, because even though it smelled delicious, it looked like mud!
Well, Chief Checktoo took one sip and found that it tasted much sweeter now - delicious even - but there was hardly any left after one or two sips! He wanted more!
He smiled at Gonswap and clapped his hands.
"Bring my swiftest warriors here, I wish to send them out to find more of this wonderful stuff! Gonswap lead the way!"
And that was how maple syrup was discovered ... and how Gonswap one day became chief!