I spent my lunch break how I'd like to spend every lunch break: doing something that makes me forget about the paying job.
Walking in the woods and lugging buckets of sap will do that.
It's maple syrup time in Ohio, and like in years past, I help the local park district with sap collection. The park district employees and volunteers tap a couple dozen trees each year and boil the sap in a sugar shack built to replicate how syrup was made 100 years ago.
Sap collection is done daily. Sap flow depends on outdoor temperatures and the sun. Sunny days with temperatures above freezing and clear, freezing nights are ideal for maple syrup production.
Apparently they aren't ideal for hikers. When I was collecting sap, temperatures were in the mid-30s--and my Border collie and I were the only ones in the park.
We could listen to the birds sing, the occasional rustle of squirrels on the decaying leaves, the river water meandering southward.
Gathering the collection containers, I walked from tree to tree, popping the metal coverings from the buckets hanging on the trees, and emptying the sap into my collection containers. A few buckets had ice floating in the sap. Some contained a few inches of sap while others were half full.
When my collection buckets filled, I hauled them back to the sugar shack, dumped them into a 30-gallon barrel and repeated. After the second trip to the sugar shack, I removed my coat and hat. Hauling sap is a physical workout.
But it is a joy to be in the woods, walking on uneven ground, feeling cold air on my cheeks and listening to the sounds of nature.
It took me just under an hour to collect about 30 gallons of sap. When finished, I returned to work, refreshed and ready to focus on the task at hand.