The Inspiring Maple Tree:
The Art & Literature of Seasonal Living
Robert Strong Woodward
Western Massachusetts landscape painter, Robert Strong Woodward (1885-1957) was born in Northampton, MA and settled in Buckland where he painted along with a studio in Heath where he produced many works. Woodward was a landscape painter mostly depicting the rural countryside and living that surrounded him. One of the themes he explored is the sugaring season.
You can view Woodward’s works at the website run by the nonprofit Friends of Woodward.
One painting in particular, Late Sugaring, shows maple trees with red tapping buckets along Route 112 in Buckland. Painted in 1934, this image is a typical New England scene that one can still witness driving along the same road in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. This beautiful region, largely unchanged throughout the decades, still offers that majestic New England experience that Woodward captures in this painting. An online gallery of Woodward’s sugaring paintings is also found at Friends of Woodward’s web site. Peruse the gallery before heading over to a local sugar shack this season for breakfast and arrive curious. What has changed over the years? What is the same?
Sugar season and the sugar maple tree have inspired local artists and writers in their creative work. Western Massachusetts poet Hannah Fries’ “Naming the Trees” from her 2016 collection of poetry Little Terrarium is a love poem that takes the reader with her and her lover along a walk in the woods in early spring. They attempt to name the trees based on their bark, since the leaves are not yet out in March.
The last stanza specifically refers to the sugar maple. Notice how the poet uses the taste of syrup and its sweetness to describe the sensation that the two lovers feel when they are together. She takes the seasonality of New England living and rural life to describe a shared sentiment felt by two people in love. The word “sweetness” refers to the syrup’s taste, but more importantly, to what the two people already experience and know with each other.
“Sugar maple, we say, and it is on our tongues:
Tap it now, in March,
the ground a mash of snow and mud, sap rising
from the roots, clear drop on the finger:
small sweetness we taste because we know it’s there.”
You can learn more about poet Hannah Fries at www.hannahfries.com.
Visit a sugar shack during sugaring season to taste and witness that which inspires artists and poets every year!
[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]
Download our March/April edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.