Nature Notes from Common Ground

Week of February 22, 2021

Maple Sugaring

The temperatures forecast this week should be perfect for the maple sap to flow, so here at Common Ground we have begun tapping our maple trees. Freezing nights and thawing days create a pressure differential where the internal pressure of the tree is greater than the atmospheric (air) pressure. This difference causes the sweet sap to flow out of any cuts or holes in the tree. We tap the trees, collect the sap and boil it, evaporating the water and concentrating the sugars until we have syrup.

It is important to recognize that maple sugaring is an indigenous tradition that precedes the colonization of North America. We are grateful to the people who hold and have held this knowledge for generations and who shared it (willingly or not) so that we, too, can enjoy syrup from the trees here.

Humans are not the only beings who both appreciate and harvest the sweetness of maple sap. Red squirrels are known to make small bites in maple branches with their incisors which cause the sap to flow. The squirrels will return later after some of the water has evaporated to lick the sugary residue. According to some traditions, it was through observing red squirrels that humans first discovered the sweet maple sap.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an Ojibwe scholar, writer, and artist, tells the story of a girl (Kwezens) who learns to harvest maple sap by watching a red squirrel (Ajidamoo):

And while that Kwezens
is lying down, and looking up
she sees Ajidamoo up in the tree
[hello] Ajidamoo! I hope you had a good winter,
I hope you had enough food cached.”
But Ajidamoo doesn’t look up because she’s already busy.
She’s not collecting nuts.
[She’s not]

She’s not building her nest.
Gawiin, not yet.
She’s not looking after any young.
Gawiin, too early.
She’s just nibbling on the bark, and then doing
some sucking.

Nibble, nibble suck.
Nibble, nibble suck.
Nibble, nibble, suck.
Nibble, nibble, suck.

Kwezens is feeling a little curious.
So she does it too, on one of the low branches.

Nibble, nibble suck.
Nibble, nibble suck.
Nibble, nibble, suck.
Nibble, nibble, suck.
This stuff tastes good.
It’s real, sweet water.

Make sure to read the entire story here.


Nature activity of the week

Sap is food made by the tree’s leaves during the summer and is stored in its roots during the winter. Stored sap (food) is used by trees to grow new branches and leaves in the spring. In late winter and early spring, when the days become longer and warmer, the stored sap begins to travel from the roots up the sapwood in the tree’s trunk to the branches. In this activity, we’ll learn about how sap flows through the tree.

Materials Needed:

  • Knife
  • Celery stalk with leaves
  • 2 clear cups
  • 2 different colors of food coloring (red & blue work best)
  • Spoon


  1. Use the knife to trim off the bottom of the celery and slice lengthwise through the center of the stalk from about the middle of the stalk to the bottom.
  2. Fill 2 glasses at least 1/2 full with water and then add one color dye to one glass and the other color dye to the other glass. Add enough dye to make a very strong dark solution and mix well.
  3. Place the 2 glasses next to each other. Put one end of the cut celery stalk into one glass and the other end into the other glass.
  4. What do you think will happen? Write down your prediction.
  5. Start this activity in the morning and let the celery remain in the dye all day. At the end of the day, check to see how the different dyes have travelled up the celery stalk to the leaves.
  6. Cut a cross-section of the stalk and observe the pieces.


  1. Did the dye move the way you expected it to?
  2. How does the dye moving up the celery stalk compare to how sap flows through a tree?
  3. Is there anything that would make the dye flow differently?

Adapted from


Hike of the Week

Where to go for less ice and snow!

The packed snow and ice on many trails right now can make hiking difficult. Great options for getting outside without slipping and sliding are a walk on the beach (try the CT Audubon Coastal Center, Silver Sands State Park, Hammonasset, or West Haven Beach) or the Derby Greenway, which is plowed and great for walking, biking, and scootering.


Weekly Video

Tapping a Sugar Maple



Webinars from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project

How to Start and Sustain a Successful School Garden – February 25, 2021, 3:30 – 5:00pm

Multicultural Children’s Literature in the Garden – March 25, 2021, 3:30 – 5:00pm


About this series

Our programs for children at Common Ground are place based, hands on, and focus on community, friendship, and nature-based learning and play.

In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.

Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.