This drawing is a proposal for the tree spa that I want to create. Currently I am building this program from the ground up in Keney Park, in the underprivileged North End of Hartford, Connecticut. I am collaborating with the Keney Park Sustainability Project and the Sculpture Department of Hartford Art School. I am building a mobile sugar shack, tapping trees in Keney park and at schools and residences in Hartford, and running a series of environmental education programming for area youth in collaboration with Knox Parks. We will be celebrating the maple syrup harvest with our third annual Pancake Festival this year, to take place in Keney Park in March 2018. Finally, I am building a sauna that will be powered by the steam generated as a byproduct of the maple syrup evaporation process, where participants will be able to take the healing waters of the trees and discuss important matters affecting our communities.
What follows is a collection of images from my tree sap collecting and sharing practice. I drink lots of tree sap every spring, and encourage others to do so. I’ve been toying with this idea ever since about 2010 when I wrote We Common. At the time I was living in New York and covertly tapping trees in city parks, among many other foraged food sharing experiments.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with making and installing custom infrastructure for sap sharing in public spaces, like the bucket on the tree here.
There are a lot of great things about the tree juice gathering lifestyle. One of the best is that you are active during the coldest time of the year, which is great for mental and physical health. It also means you get to experience magic like seeing the crocuses come up in your footprints where your body heat has literally melted the snow and warmed the Earth.
This image is from a parallel project I’ve been doing at my workplace, the sculpture studio at Hartford Art School. I often put quotes from the book of work up on this chalkboard. Collecting and processing tree sap is a ton of work, but it’s so rewarding.
I have been working at sap collecting in earnest since 2013. I make, sell, and donate syrup from some of the sap I collect too. You can buy some in the Emporium of Real Things if you want.
I started out collecting and boiling sap with my brother and some friends (that’s Nick Brown in the picture) at the homestead we were working in Storrs, CT (see Building Buildings and Landing on Land). We had an old borrowed evaporator from Sweet Acre Farm and a plastic covered wigwam kinda thing we slapped together from bamboo poles.
I made a rocket stove which has been useful for finishing and bottling the syrup. Rocket stoves are an incredible example of appropriate technology that allow you to boil water (or sap, or soup, or whatever you want) using a mere handful of twigs or scrap wood.
I first made the rocket stove as a visiting artist at Bennington College in 2014. I wanted to inspire the sculpture students to cook for themselves and boycott the corporate dining hall.
Now my rocket stove is at Hartford Art School, where I work, and we use it for soup, syrup, and socializing with the Sculpture Club.
We also make the syrup in plein air, right under the old sculpture gantry, utilizing a 2′ x 6′ wood-fired evaporator I purchased used in 2016.
It’s been a good time, we got some publicity for the University too, which they of course loved, when the local TV news covered the story. The first video is better. We had a really fun BYOB (Bring Your Own Batter) pancake competition when the syrup was ready.
The following images and text are excerpted from a slide lecture I gave at Pecha Kucha, New Haven, in 2015, about my sap collecting practice.
Ultimately I plan to make an aestheticized installation of elegant tubing on a polyculture hillside of trees connected to a retreat space where tree sap is both drunk and absorbed through the skin in communal steam rooms. That’s all for now, I leave you with another quote from the book of work…