Snow Fleas & The Magic of Winter
Each season reveals another life-layer, exposed through a different lens or life-promoting condition...meet the snow flea
By David Bonta (https://www.vianegativa.us/2010/02/snow-flea/)
The snow flea is rarely found alone. Though if it were, who but another snow flea would notice it against the snow, a single speck of pepper, a mote of ash? Come March & they move en masse, transhumant across their blue-shadowed host. Approach too close & they start to rocket about like acrobats in a mad flea circus. There’s safety in numbers, & in the unpredictability of a random launch — the wingless springtail’s main defense. True, one sometimes goes straight up & returns to the same, dangerous spot, but what bird wants to mess with such unquiet seeds? The snow flea is as self-reliant as its cousin the true flea is dependent. It absorbs moisture through a feeding tube in its abdomen & breathes directly through its thick skin. Its blood contains a protein that prevents it from ever freezing & hardening into knives. The snow flea never stops molting, even after becoming an adult. Life alternates between two phases, mating & eating, with a complete change of skin after each. Nor does the fastidiousness end there: all reproduction is by post. The male deposits a tidy packet of sperm at some convenient location & the female stops by later & picks it up. To everything its season. And when the snow melts? The snow flea walks on water if it must, & returns at last — recalcitrant seasoning — to the soil’s dark goulash.
It is mid-winter and there is a thick, sparkling blanket of snow over the landscape. We gratefully welcomed the snow, as the forest was definitely responding to the unseasonably warm temperatures in November. The maple buds were swelling and Mother Earth was peeking around her sleeping mask. We breathe relief for the peace of snow and permission for the trees to rest. And in some years, when the trees are at rest, the snow fleas are out romping and performing clean up duty in the forest! We saw very few last winter, but there is a banner population of these productive acrobats this season, perhaps partly due to warmer mean temperatures. What is a snow flea, you may ask? It is not a flea, actually, although it is the size of one, and can jump quite handily. It isn't even an insect! They have another common name: springtails, and boy can they spring. They are not parasites. They eat decaying organic matter in the forest, and due to an antifreeze-type substance in their bodies, they can withstand cold temperatures and are visibly active in the winter months. You'll often see them near the base of trees when the sun shines. They'll be hopping around joyfully working on decomposition. Clean up, Forest 2!
Sometimes things which first seem odd or unusual, actually play an important role in our lives here on earth. It is really a beautiful web. This time of year, the snow adds a lens which reveals another layer of activity. Busy, winding trails of mice. Bouncing steps of rabbits and hares. The trailing tracks of coyotes and foxes. Squirrels checking a stash for a snack. Owls lifting up a juicy, unlucky morsel from the forest floor. Eagles riding the wind. Snow fleas rejoicing in decomposing winter snacks. The snow reveals soft details of life that are harder to discern without its canvas.
The trees are also responding to the warmer winter, slipping in some early flows. We collected sap on Christmas Eve and created a small Whole Maple batch that is very reminiscent of buttery shortbread, and a New Year batch, with a fulsome vanilla tone. The warming climate is having an impact on the world, including the trees, and we wonder how it will imprint on our lives and the lives of all that live around us. Like snow, syrup is another lens, revealing the thoughts and lives of the trees, and we look forward to tasting our way through 2021.
The taps are beginning to go into the forest in earnest. We will collect what the trees provide naturally--no vacuum systems to draw extra sap from the forest--and we will carefully concentrate and put every bit in batches and blends for you. In the meantime, relish the last drops of 2020 and remember that to all things there is a season. Welcome to the new tones of 2021, adding another nuance to all the years which came before.