When you move to a new city and state, you deal with the expected and the unexpected. The expected includes boxes that don’t unpack themselves (but what a great invention, right?), over-the-fence greetings with neighbors (categorized as “nice”, “cranky”, and “utterly weird”), and enough wrong turns on roads where you finally pull over and mutter, “Where the heck am I?” Unexpected includes the drip of a leaky pipe ($$$, sigh), chew-crazy squirrels in the backyard (anything plastic is fair game), and, oh yes… pine cones. Lots and lots of pine cones.
Five acres may seem like a lot to some of you readers but to us it’s downsizing from our ranch in Colorado. You’d think a property a sixth the size of the former would suggest lower maintenance. After last Sunday I’m not so sure. My wife came in from the barn the day before and said, rather gently, “We should probably pick up the pine cones in the back pasture before they get out of control.” Simple enough. After we fed and watered the horses, we went out to the field with the muck rakes and began picking. A muck rake can hold ten pine cones. Around the first tree I figured I picked up fifteen rakes’ worth. Again, simple enough… except we have at least twenty pine trees. Do the math. Our pickup amounted to a motherlode of pine cones, somewhere between two and three thousand.
Back in Colorado we had, like, one pine tree on our property (a magical one actually, which I wrote about in My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree). After last weekend I’m thinking I should’ve amended our purchase agreement on the new place to say, “Remove nineteen of twenty pine trees”.
What does Dave do with all of his pine cones? Nothing, for now. The most efficient system of gathering is to throw them against the base of the trees and then haul them away to the “yard waste” dump. But in the three hours we collected cones, I had plenty of time to think about better ways to do it. The neighbors suggested a “pasture vacuum”, which is like one of those big spinning brushes you see in the car wash, dragged behind the tractor. Others suggested a big bonfire, pretty much the last thing a person from Colorado wants to see in their backyard.
Here’s thinking outside of the box: I could get a pet Parasaurolophus, the dinosaur with a distinctive crested head. The Para has thousands of teeth perfectly suited for their favorite meal: pine cones. But I’d need a time machine so I can bring one back from sixty million years ago. Looks like it’s still me and the muck rake for now.
“Conifer cones”, which include pine cones, play a vital role in the evolution of the trees. Between all those little wooden scales are the seeds, first pollinated and later released. It’s a sophisticated process which you can read a lot more about here. In its simplest terms you have the smaller, meeker “males”, who release pollen for the “females” to catch. Then the females release the seeds, even after they lay in my pastures by the thousands, seemingly dead.
There was a moment in all that raking where I followed a squirrel as he bounded across the grass and onto the trunk of one of the trees. Up, up, up he went until he disappeared into the umbrella of the branches above. And that’s where, to my horror, I noticed how many thousands of pine cones sat poised above me. Maybe millions… almost all of them female. It’s like having the world’s biggest sorority row above my backyard, and every house is about to disgorge its girls for a giant party on the ground. Maybe I should hire Sticky Vikki & The Pine Cones for the music.
I know, I know, it could be worse. I could live in Maine, where there are so many pine trees the state flower is the pine cone (and a pine cone is not even a flower). Or I could have Coulter pine trees, with cones so big they’re nicknamed “widowmakers”. Seriously, these ladies are massive – you don’t want one falling on your head. Speaking of falling, the mere sound of a plummeting cone is unnerving enough. It’s like a warplane flying overhead and releasing a bomb, only the bomb whistles straight to the ground without detonating. “THUNK”.
We shared the story of our pine cone bounty with my brother-in-law, who promptly encouraged us to do something creative with them. Make wreaths for the holidays. Turn them into coffee and jam like they do in Eastern Europe. Sell them as the fertility charm they’re supposed to be. Nah, I don’t have time for all that. We’re expecting extra wind in the next few days courtesy of Hurricane Ian. I have another three thousand pine cones to pick up.