Pondering Pines

A brief interruption in the rehab of Brighty occurred in early August. I am quite behind in my posting, I know. I will get better about that, promise. I was lucky enough to get a gig helping the don with some pine cone picking. Unlike the other pines worked on in the spring, these pines have no special genetic traits offering resistance to anything. They were just selected for their looks and value as lumber specimens. The person who had done the selecting would frequently point to a tree and say to me, “See that tree? Would you want a forest full of those?” I realized he wanted a forest of trees that all looked the same, very straight and tall and just a few limbs whereas I think I prefer a forest of trees like in the Dr. Seuss books with bends and forks in the trunk and limbs sticking out all which-a-way.

Would you want a forest of these trees? the don in this pine- see his blue hat?

Also, in case you are wondering, pine cone is one of those words that can be written as two words or as one, called an open or closed compound word. Probably it is best to pick your favorite and stick to that style throughout your writing. I do not promise to do that because I prefer to live the “and” life rather than the “either-or” life. If it is okay to use pine cone AND pinecone then I will probably do that. 🙂

Ponderosa pines are probably my favorite tree because of the smell of the bark. It is either vanilla or butterscotch, depending on the tree, and it is heavenly to smell as you climb. The cones are quite large, about the size of an avocado and about as heavy as a large grapefruit. Now, these cones are just ripening and are still full of moisture making them MUCH heavier than their dried and opened counterparts on the ground and in many fall centerpiece arrangements. I learned this from experience and, as I tend to do, I gained that experience the hard way.

Ponderosa Pine in early morning light

Tip: if you find yourself in a situation where someone 30 feet above you wants to toss a cone down for you to slice open and check for ripeness, let the cone hit the dirt and then go pick it up. Do NOT reach out your hand and catch the falling cone like some baseball outfielder in a World Series game. I have NO IDEA what I was thinking and, really, I’m not a sporty-gal who played softball or anything. I mean, I can barely catch a cold much less anything thrown in my general direction. And yet when the don hollered, “Hey, Susan, can you check this cone,” and lobbed the pine grenade towards the ground, I was walking to the truck and just reached my left hand out and caught the thing. IN MY BARE HAND. To be honest, I was quite shocked that I had so nonchalantly caught it while I was sauntering to the truck, I didn’t even really try to catch it. Probably because, as mentioned, I’m not good at catching things. And even when I do catch something it usually bounces out of my hand and I go running pell-mell after it like a dog with a Kong toy. However, if the caught object has spines like a puffer fish that will stick into your palm and fingers it is much less likely to bounce out.

Spines on this prickly booger make it pretty easy to catch, if one were so inclined

It can also cause a little nerve damage. Even 6 weeks later the tip of my middle finger has that weird tingling numbness to it. I do not mind too much because it still works well enough when that finger needs to point out some minor infraction or irritation that crosses my path.

Ouch. Lots of little stab holes in my hand. On the plus side, I could hardly feel them due to the temporary nerve damage from catching the cone. 

Aren’t these pinecones beautiful? Naturally the purple is my favorite.

Green, brown, and purple cones all from Ponderosa.

I mostly worked on the ground the first two days but then we got to an area where the trees to climb were close enough together that I could climb one and have the don within shouting distance in case anything went wrong. I wasn’t worried about falling out of a tree but there are other things that can go wrong and, even if I am late telling you the story, I always want to get back in one piece and tell it. I am kind of cautious that way. So finally the day comes that I get to climb a tree by myself! I get my gear together, check the ropes and knots, get the little “Bo-Peep” tool the don created to pull the branches in. See, the cones are on the outer branches and I am attached to the trunk so this tool lets me grab the outer branch and bend it toward me to pick the cones. It is actually quite peaceful up there. Very few bugs, lots of birds and the views are amazing! It took me probably three times as long to get the same quantity of cones but that is okay, I was having a pretty good time even if I was slow.

Getting started as the sun just starts coming over the hill
All the gear to climb fits into these two bags
Ropes, clips, and powder
Powdering the ropes keeps them from getting sticky with tree pitch
Me in a not-too-tall tree

Unfortunately the tree climbing was slowed down for me due to getting “glutened.” I have to eat gluten-free or else I get very sick. I had been living in a house with bread and trying to be careful but some crumb of bread must have gotten into my breakfast one morning because on the way to the climbing site I became very ill. I tried climbing a tree but keeping my nausea at bay took most of my attention and I wasn’t able to pick very well. I ended up on the ground for a number of days which is the best place to be if you are vomiting and having diarrhea. When I get glutened I tend to run a fever for a few days, too, and that makes tree climbing not such a good idea, either. At least getting out into the forest was keeping my mind off of how yucky I felt, even if I was on the ground the entire time. I did get to see some pretty sights.

Bee my friend
What do you think the caption for this should be?

I will say it was hard work but it was also really fun work. Watching the sun rise as I headed to the forest site, then going to swim in the river after working, heading home to appreciate a soft bed and shower. It really simplified life to the sweet things. I don’t think I could do it every day for a year but for a couple of weeks it was really good. It is also really nice to have a job that you can bring your dog along with you.

Oh, and one thing, wear gloves when you work with pine cones. Trust me on this.

Training Day 1

Training Day 1


While I am on hiatus from the BnB consulting job awaiting payment for services rendered, I have taken a temporary position located in the northern Rockies. I had some preliminary training on the basics of my new job requirements last week and today was to be the first real training day. Some of the new skills I must master involve knots with different rope sizes, harnesses, and very important is tree identification.

The project involves finding very specific trees using GPS and previous identification of these same trees and then climbing them (not a skill I have mastered but am learning) to harvest pollen right as it is ripe but before it has had a chance to be contaminated by the pollen from nearby trees. After the collection will come the cleaning and proper storage of the pollen using (relatively) clean methods to avoid cross-contamination by other trees or other pollen collected and then appropriate storage of the pollen until it can be turned in for use. I would like to think my many years of experience in the chemistry of haircolor as well as my time in university research labs will aid in the cleaning and packaging of the collected pollen since none of that aids me in climbing these 100 foot trees. I did once climb an 80 foot pole at Philmont using spikes and a rope and was tied in for protection using the classic belaying method of trusting your partner to hold the rope if you fell. That time i did not fall but it was slow going and i developed an appreciation for the trapezius muscle that had heretofor been absent in my experience. This time would be a little different, however. There would be no partner to belay me and catch me if I goof up and I will not be wearing spikes BUT I will have two ropes and only one will be moving at any given moment, with the other being my own personal belay. the don has done this type of work before and assures me that it is worthwhile having me as a part of the team. I am hopeful he is right and that it is not just that he wants me around because his dog has taken a shine to me.

here the don is about 95 feet up in the white pine. soon I will be doing this!

Obvious as it may be since you are reading this, I did not fall to my death from a tree on this first jaunt. Sadly, the intel received from the contracting body (which I will not name) was incomplete. While the contract has specific about what measures are to be taken to reach a designated tree, these parameters were not considered when the don was tasked with accessing this tree that was to be my first foray in the training of my new job. While I am quite disappointed in not getting to learn more about this new job and whether I will get any monetary compensation for my time spent sitting in a truck wrangling dogs and snacking for SIX hours, I have to say the perks are not bad. See my current “office” view along the North Fork of the Clearwater River and, bless his heart, the don already bought salsa and chips and beer as well as dinner and breakfast items since we are having to camp near the trees location. So while I may or may not come out ahead monetarily, I am certainly not out where food comes in. If you know me, you know just how much salsa I can eat so the don might want to be careful how he bids these trees when I am along.


This post will be brief as I am heading out again in an hour to find and, hopefully, climb more trees. I did want to show you the place I am currently staying in Idaho. If you are my friend on Facebook or follow me on Instagram you will have already seen some of these photos. I have to admit I had no idea Idaho could be this lovely. I am quite taken by the cool spring and mesmerized by all the flowers. I love having a forest for a backyard and a creek running beside the house. I cannot tell you how it feels to have wild turkeys calling you to wake up, the sun is rising, and how it feels to slowly watch the sky turn from black to morning light through the window above the bed that does not have or need curtains. I cannot tell you how this feels because there are not words that can express what it feels like when your soul, after a long and arduous journey, comes home. Even when it is a home you never stepped foot in before, your soul just knows when it is home.
Big kiss to you all and may your soul be at home today.