In the fall the ancient burly pines release the pine nuts they have been harboring. The sappy pine cones open up to reveal the dark brown nuts encased in the cone flower. I try to be there when this happens. In these old forests the wind moves the thin garnished air. It is still fragrant from the scent of sun baked wildflowers that live in the high places. The breeze mixes with the aroma of scoured sage and desert dust. This is the essence of the high desert; the smell of pitch mixed with the perfume of the mountains. It is intoxicating and welcomes me home.
Looking For Food
The air here, still warm in the daylight, has a hint of winter. I take my time, traveling gently between the pinyons, looking for the cones still attached to the trees. The green ones have the nuts, often just out of reach. A branched stick helps me bend the branches down to twist the cone off. I place it in the bag I carry. This is not an efficient task. Everything about it takes time. And because of that it is the opposite of shopping at my local market for dinner. The experience demands that time be taken. And the reward is the slowing of my tempo and an enhanced awareness of my surroundings. This is the ancient nature of foraging.
The Value of No Value
I am grateful that these trees have no commercial value, that harvesting pine nuts is so time intensive. These old Pinyon forests remain one of the few native occupants in a neighborhood afflicted by change and modernizing technology. The nuts remain extraordinary, rich in protein, dense, and critical to the insects and animals that call these dessert places home. As I walk gathering the sticky, thorny cones, I see many signs of the importance of these forests. Small piles of shredded pine cones sit under some of the trees, a spontaneous feast for a ground squirrels. Mysterious burrows nearby harbor other connoisseurs of the nuts, (and the ground squirrels).
The taste and smell of them bring me back to my childhood when we would camp and harvest pine nuts and play in the high desert. It is gratifying that I can still slow down and enjoy the process. It brings me back home, to a time not-quite-forgotten.
As the sun begins to set the ravens catcall me as they fly away, perturbed by my departure. Tonight, with sticky fingers, we will have a small dish of fire roasted, salted pine nuts, and it will be good.
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Mammoth Lakes, California, 93546, US