Near the door to my home sits a hurricane vase atop a marble and metal stand, filled with pine cones, each deeply attached to memories.
We once spent two late-summer days on a sandy beach adjacent to an Idaho City mountain creek, burying each other in sand, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, playing pitch and hit with huge pine cones and suitable-sized sticks. The fresh, evergreen-scented air and kids’ high-octave laughter permeated everything.
Just as we were leaving camp, my ever-observant seven-year-old, Jared, saw me slip one of the cones into my jacket pocket. I told him it was to remember.
Since that creek-side camp adventure, Jared’s presented me with single pine cones, and I see him doing that again and again in my mind’s eye, as a towheaded child under four feet tall, as a dark blond, muscular boy of my own height, and as a giant, nineteen-year-old, deep-voiced man.
“Here you are, O Wonderful Mother,” he’d say in his teasing, overly-formal tone, bowing slightly and dramatically extending the souvenir as an offering.
Few things melt my heart faster than stopping on my way in or out of the house to consider the vase.
I have cones from hikes, from trail riding on the ATVs, from summer boys’ camps. Whenever I look at them, I see each instance, woven in like a fast-forward movie. If I want to examine each bit of nostalgia, I’ll empty the vase onto the dining room table, handling and sometimes smelling each one, hoping for a scent that instantly takes me back to that mountain, that campsite, that river. There’s even a teeny, tiny, odd-looking one from Laie, Hawaii, randomly picked up long before any official collection got started. If I think about it, I guess I’ve been collecting them for a long time, and Jared took over where I left off.
That this would become our inadvertent family tradition is mysteriously fitting: Conifer pines are one of the oldest species of trees on the earth, existent before even the flower’s debut. Conversely, the pine cone is a symbol for eternal life. It’s also representative of the Pineal gland (named after the pinecone because of its shape), which controls our sleep/ wake function, perception of light, and gives us as humans a knowing we wouldn’t have otherwise, that sixth sense.
My children are everything to me; I feel I’ve known them long before this time around. When the oldest flip-flopped in-utero, when his brother rhythmically, systematically kicked, or his sister stretched in a sporadic display of wanting nothing but freedom, that was familiar.
I’ve never been so alive, so awake, as when I put down my work (the keyboard, the dishes, the paintbrush) and abandoned myself to playing with those kids. That didn’t happen nearly as often as it could have, but when it did, everything in my soul perked up. My perception of light was wide open, right in front of me, in the forms of my three “chapters”: one doing acrobatics, the other constructing something, and the third just trying to find a way to make it all pretty.
They’re across the state, across the country, and across the world now, but one of these days I hope to get at least one or two more pine cones. These simple tokens of mother- and child-hood are what I’d first rescue from threat of fire or flood.
Exactly why they’re placed by the door.