I gladly accepted Sebastian’s invitation to participate in this season’s production of maple syrup. A labor intensive and scientific branch of husbandry, I’d heard the sugar shack is congenial ground to gather come March.

Who could resist the warmth and friendship of a blazing wood fire on a chilly, drizzly afternoon?

Sebastian and our fellow neighbor, Roland, had wrapped up another batch of syrup. A pizza on a platter sat on top of the bottles they’d filled.

“Where do you tap your trees?” I asked.

“Our property on Howard Lake Road in Leonard. Friends help with the main line tubing system with a vacuum pump on the end to increase production. One hundred twenty to one hundred sixty gallons syrup equals about 1,100 – 1,300 taps.” Sebastian grinned. “My buddies are hooked on my maple syrup.”

The expression on Roland’s face indicated he’s amongst that number.

“What do you do with your syrup?” I asked.

“Give most of it away to business associates, friends, and family.” Sebastian flashed another smile. “Giving is the key to happiness.”

I agreed.

The massive, sophisticated equipment demonstrated Sebastian’s experience and skill as a builder. Roland did not exaggerate when he said our neighbor had designed something I had to see.

“What motivated you to make this commitment?” I asked.

“I got itchy fingers several years ago when my neighbor tapped her trees. I like a good hobby, to tinker, and it’s usually nothing small or simple.”

I said a silent “amen” to that.

“There are many facets of making syrup I enjoy,” Sebastian said. “Improving the equipment as I learn, for one. The vacuum filter removes the niter, or impurities, from the sap. I learned to boil the sap to seven degrees above the boiling point for a higher sugar and less water content.”

I admired my neighbor’s determination to relish life while he’s “young and strong,” as he sees it. He’s hunted Montana’s back country with his hunting buddies who consider his maple syrup “their spinach.”

“This is our informal social activity. We unwind,” Sebastian added.

I’m amazed. “Who and what influenced you to work this hard at giving to people?”

“My dad worked with his hands and taught me generosity by example. He grew an apple orchard and gave away apples and cider to his business associates. This had a strong impact on my life. If someone didn’t receive their apples and cider, Dad heard about it.”

Sebastian poured us samples of his syrup in small plastic cups. We toasted and tasted.

His father would be proud.

“I remember a teaching moment,” Sebastian said. “Dad insisted my brother and I handle his apples with care. He corrected us when we bruised them. He demanded nothing but top notch for everyone. Those are the best values of our Italian culture.”

Dear Reader, I left with four bottles of maple syrup tapped and made in Leonard, Michigan. That equals about thirty gallons of sap to yield one-half gallon worth of his labor.

Three bottles to share. One to keep.

Contact Iris at irisfarmletters@gmail.com.