Tackling Maples

I taught computers for 18 years before going to work at Audubon 9 years ago.  When I taught computers, people asked me, “How do you know so much about computers?”  Now they ask me, “How do you know so much about nature?”

Big Sugar Maple at AudubonThe truth is, you don’t have to know much more than the average person to appear an expert.  If I happen to know one or two more facts or techniques, you might perceive me as knowing everything when really, I’m just a novice – maybe only half a step beyond you.  I’ve learned it before you.  That’s all.  This is is true whether the topic is technology or trees.

In answer to the questions, I do have a method for learning.  Obsession!  I pick a narrow topic and obsess about it for a while.  I put on blinders to minimize distractions.  I cover my desk with every available book on the subject.  Sometimes I even schedule a class on the topic – forcing myself to learn before I teach!  Teaching is the most effective way to learn, don’t you think?

Naturally, I use Audubon as my training ground.  I walk the trails and try to learn what I can about everything I pass with the idea of sharing it later with visitors to the Center.  A couple of years ago, I obsessed about coniferous trees.  I think I can identify every needled tree on the sanctuary now.  (Although, for some… I really need a cone.  So don’t ask me the species unless you see a pine cone nearby, kay?)

My current obsession is going to be deciduous trees.  You may have already figured that out, based on my Sycamore and Tulip Tree posts.  Those two trees weren’t too difficult.  There aren’t similar species to confuse with them… they are pretty distinctive.

Sugar Maple LeafThen there are the maples.  This will be a challenge.  There are thousands of species of maples worldwide.  There is a 500-page book written about maples.  I think there are only around seven species, though, that are native to my region.  I’ll start with those and hopefully that will be all I find on the Audubon property.  Then again… there’s a Douglas Fir on the Audubon property and they are native only to the western part of the continent…  And then there are the cultivars and imports and cross-breeds.  Oh dear… well… it will be a challenge.  I’ll tackle it one tree at a time…

Sugar Maple Diagram from Mass Maple Website…starting with Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), the New York State tree.  Famous for the high sugar content in its sap from which sugar makers produce delicious syrup, butter, and candy, this tree is common in the northeastern US and southeastern Canada.  A long time ago a forester helped me remember Sugar Maple by pointing out a feature of the leaves.  Notice the space between the lobes.  It is smooth and shaped like the letter U – just like the U in sUgar!  Leaf shape is still the easiest way for me to know the trees.  With winter coming on, though, I suppose I’ll have to turn my attention to the buds and bark.  There’s always something new to learn, isn’t there?

I love maple syrup.  If I can’t have the real thing, then I’d prefer not to have pancakes at all.  It concerns me that the sap industry appears to be affected by global warming.  I googled “maple syrup global warming” and found more than a dozen articles on the link between climate change and reduced sap production.  So sad.  It’s funny about maple syrup; people either love it or hate it.  How about you?  Are you a maple syrup lover?

Need to know more?  Check out these maple websites:

7 thoughts on “Tackling Maples

  1. Hi Jennifer,
    I liked your comment about being an expert. When I used to work at WBU, customers would come in and ask me, “do you know a lot about birds?” My usual response was, “I guess I know more than the average person, what’s your question?” Obsessions like yours are good–especially when you are willing to share your knowledge so the rest of us learn new things too.

    BTW, I love, Love, LOVE real Maple Syrup!! I think it’s an acquired taste if you’re used to Mrs. Butterworth, but once you learn to enjoy it, no other syrup will ever be as good. I don’t even worry about the carbs. I have several maple trees getting big enough in my yard to tap in the spring and I would like to try making a little batch of my own maple syrup next spring. I also heard the report about global warming negatively affecting the U.S. production of maple syryp, so maybe I should start stockpiling before the price goes up….

  2. People ask me how I know so much about stuff too, and I am always surprised that people think I know anything at all… the only thing I really learned writing my MA was that the sum of all knowledge is so big even if you only want to know about some little corner the amounts are still so overwhelming… I spent a whole year reading like 8 -10 hrs a DAY and I still know practically nothing,


    I always thought I didn’t like maple syrup until I had the real thing… carbs are really the root of all middle aged evils you know! So I am thinking I need to learn a winter sport so I can eat more pancakes

  3. We make maple syrup every year.
    My cousin’s family still has the VT farm where it all started–but we have an evaporating pan and set up the “arch” every spring at Valentine’s Day.
    With each move we’ve made, I always check to see that there are sugar maples on the property. Getting more scarce–acid rain is their enemy.

  4. The ‘obsession and teaching’ techniques are very interesting ways of going about acquiring knowledge. Are you an intuitive thinker? I know a few NTs (myself included) who will fling themselve into a narrow field of study and emerge days later, spouting wonderfully obscure information. It’s quite fun, though I pity the people around me– my family does not need to know precisely when in the 14th century tailors started cutting bodices separately from skirts. 🙂

    Maple syrup is wonderful, and the fake maple-flavored-corn-syrup is an abomination. There are a few sugar maples in the woods near our house, but we’ve never bothered to go through the effort to make our own syrup.

  5. If you’re beginning an interest in trees, you might like Bernd Heinrich’s book “The Trees in my Forest”. He’s a professional biologist, naturalist, and wonderful writer.

  6. @Ruthie – how cool to work at WBU. That’s what I should do when I grow up.

    @Deb – the trick is to specialize in something obscure, I think. hahaha… You can come snowshoeing with me any time you wan!

    @ Nina – funny you should mention acid rain! We just found a bag full of “Stop Acid Rain” pins while cleaning the closets at Audubon. I should do a post on that. They are vintage 1988. Have we made any progress since then I wonder?

    @ Spoot – your scouts must learn some very interesting things from oy. hahah!

    @ HIllel – thanks for giving me an item for my Christmas wish list!

    @ all – Maple Syrup ROCKS!!!!

  7. Pingback: Oh Those Sexy Red Maples « A Passion for Nature

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