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COLUMN: Valuing togetherness during a time of social distancing

Andrew Booher uses a chainsaw to cut firewood while Darwin Booher holds the wood in place and Christian Booher looks on from a distance.

There’s a stretch of land outside of Evart, Michigan, that goes on forever but leads to nowhere. Hayfields surround you for what seems like miles on the each side of the road as vehicles bounce on the gravel-created road, making for a less than ideal drive if you’re into fancy scenery.

It’s a drive that my family has made thousands of times. 

There are family records that date back to 1896. It was Andrew Booher who tapped trees and boiled sap into maple syrup in the backyard of his stone house for hours on end. While there's no reference of this before the late 1800s, I assume he must have learned from someone. Either way, it more so serves as a good reference point. 

What occurred in that backyard is also why, nearly 125 years later, I accompany my brother, aptly named Andrew Booher, out to the stone house to be a part of that family tradition. 

Those that know me well understand that I am not particularly into the agricultural side of the world, despite it being in my roots. Sometimes it's an excessive chore to get me to go outside when there are sporting events on television. Sadly, these sporting events are no longer an excuse to stay inside. They’re gone, at least for the time being, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ten minutes into my time back at the stone house, it hit me just how different things are nowadays. 

What felt like a Saturday afternoon at my grandpa Darwin’s place was actually a Wednesday. At this time on a typical Wednesday, I'd usually be taking notes and listening to lectures in my BCA 211 and COM 101 classes. 

But, like I said, life as we know it has changed.

Nowadays, there are no sports to watch. All my classes are online. A majority of my time since starting classes after spring break has been spent in front of a computer – and while I appreciate the convenience of attending an 8 a.m. lecture from the comfort of my bed – now I gladly welcome every opportunity that I have to step out into fresh air. 

Six months prior, before heading off to college for my freshman year, I was giving up times like these at home. Now I'm right back where I started.

The day seems like just yesterday, but two weeks ago I sat in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and watched Central Michigan’s women’s basketball team lose a quarterfinal contest to Toledo in front of a nearly empty arena. That night, NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, causing the season to be put on hold. The following day, all of sports was shut down.

New territory for a freshman sports reporter, if you ask me.

Back to the stone house. 

I'm feeling a sense of ease as I arrive at the stone house, accompanied by my father, Chad, a Central Michigan University alumnus, and younger brother, Jacob. It was there we met Andrew and Darwin, who already had the sap boiling. It’s a painstakingly long process that spans into the late hours of the night. It doesn’t require a ton of manpower besides tending to the fire that heats the sap. 

Andrew Booher uses a chainsaw to cut firewood while Darwin Booher holds the wood in place and Christian Booher looks on from a distance.

A simple conversation struck, and I realized that, despite not being overly ecstatic about the syrup making industry, it was refreshing to be outside with my family. I’d been looking forward to this since the beginning of the week simply because it was an opportunity to get away from the confinement of my house. 

The process of syrup making requires more attention than physical work, therefore there was a lot of downtime. We traded stories and laughter. Andrew, a junior at Michigan State University, and I agreed that we were more than happy to be home, even if the reasoning for us being back home was not ideal. 

It’s times like these that we may take for granted. In a time of social distancing, togetherness is as important as it ever has been. There has been an order requiring us to stay home, but we can still look out for and check in on one another – a text message, phone call or email can make a difference.

Andrew and I went over the finer details of our post-retirement business venture. The two of us plan to return to Evart in the future, creating homemade beer with the hops that we grow on our farm and starting up a sports bar or a brewery. The two of us agree that wherever we go, there will always be a place for us here in this little corner of the Osceola County. 

When I wasn't talking shop with Andrew or tending to the fire, I was fine-tuning my photography skills with Jacob. We were joined by various other family members throughout the day, each offering pleasantries and bits of conversation that added to the value of the experience. It was the perfect getaway from reality.

(From Left to Right) Barb Sherman, Ernie Booher and Chad Booher watch as the Booher family boils sap with the intention of making maple syrup. 

When it came time to leave, I felt somber. The getaway was over. 

It was time to return to the reality of online classwork and the news stories that have consumed my thoughts. However, I was reminded that my brothers and I are the seventh generation of this family to partake in this activity. That fact is surreal in itself – that so many people have done what I did. 

In the end, the only tangible item to show for it is the quarts of maple syrup we produced. 

The spread of the coronavirus, and the way it's changed the world, has been hectic, there's no denying that. But it also has allowed me to take a break to remember my roots along with seeing the value of moments like these. Memories created in the experience made the COVID-19 ordeal worthwhile. 

And it's moments like these that will get us through.