Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Phil Condon

Commitee Members

Tom Roy, Amy Ratto-Parks


sugaring, gift, real work, place, love, journey


University of Montana

Subject Categories



This thesis arises from my time waiting for, collecting, and boiling sap from maple trees into syrup. I spent four months in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York working for a modern commercial sugaring operation and sugaring in the old-fashioned manner—with buckets and a wood-fired evaporator.

The narrative follows my journey as a lifelong Westerner traveling east to learn an old tradition with my hands. Instead of observing how the warmth of a changing climate was affecting maple sugaring, I was thrust into a landscape defined by cold, during one of the coldest winters on record in the Northeast.

The pith of the story centers around my inquiry into what Wendell Berry calls “the real work” and Robert Bringhurst names “vocation.” What calls to me in life? What jolts me into feeling alive? What do I value? Based on what I value how and where should I live?

In many episodes, I begin to craft ways I would like to live in relation to the earth and its communities, my loved ones, and myself. I share my own struggle to approach the world affectionately, graciously and deliberately. I investigate what defines home for me, and how I can come to know that home more intimately. And I question the intentions behind collecting sap from the maple trees. Should sap be received as a gift or taken as a commodity?

Through a long grip of winter and a splash of early spring, this story seeks to understand place through work, love through play, and purpose through question.

Included in

Nonfiction Commons



© Copyright 2014 Nicholas R. Littman