When Pinecones are Life

Dear John,

You turned five this past week. You are super pumped to be able to hold up one hand when asked how old you are. We measured your height today and you’ve had a little growth spurt the past six months. Your body is starting to catch up with your head… a little. 

A couple of weeks ago we went hiking in the Shelton View Forest with your buddy Luke and his mom Nicole. Nicole is my longest known and dearest friend. I’ve told you and Hadley the story of how Nicole and I met in kindergarten at Shelton View Elementary. 

After our exploration around the woods, and everyone’s imminent tumble or slip as we made our way down the ravine trail, we decided to check out the playground at Shelton View Elementary right next to the forest. 

You played a little at one of the play areas on the school’s campus and then we decided to walk around and find another one. Along the way, you slipped me a pinecone you had found. In a secret whisper you said to me, “this one is special because it’s green.” I wrapped my fingers around it and held it in my hand as we made our way to the other play area. 

As you, Luke, and Hadley played on the second playground, Nicole and I sat on the bench talking about what we remember from kindergarten. Was this the same playground? Did we run around in the wooded area over there? Was that our classroom just situated in the front corner with the view of the playground?

Coincidentally, I was your age when I started kindergarten at this very school where you were now playing. Also an August baby, I had just turned five. Thirty-ish years ago, I ran around that same playground and I was the same age you were now.  Your dad and I have decided to wait another year for you to start kindergarten for a myriad of reasons, which I can explain another time. 

As I flipped the pinecone round and round in my hand, I thought about how I am watching you play at an age that I once was. An age that I can actually remember some things from. I turned the green pinecone over and over in my palm more quickly as if replicating the rapid succession in which the years seem to have flown by since that time. Then I placed it on the bench in an attempt to make time stand still as I watched you play, even if for just a minute

On our trek back toward our car I realized that I had forgotten the green pinecone back on the bench.  

“Shoot, I forgot his pinecone on the bench,” I whispered to Nicole. “Hopefully, he won’t remember.”

Seconds later you pipe up, “Mom, where’s the green pinecone I gave you?” 

“I’m so sorry buddy. I left it on the bench. Let’s find you another one here.” Dozens of pinecones lay at our feet as we passed under a huge pine tree. 

“No!!!!! That one was special for you. It was green!!” you protested.  There were plenty of pinecones to go around under the tree where we stood. Lots of different shapes and sizes. But all brown. None of them are green like the one you had found before. 

Hadley, being the best big sister there is, immediately starts searching for the best pinecone. She found a huge one for you! You smiled and laughed at the size. All is forgiven regarding the green pinecone once the big one was in your hands. One problem though, Luke liked the giant pinecone too. Unfortunately, that is the only big one we see. 

Suddenly, tears ensue as he wants the big pinecone. Hadley fiercely reiterates the fact that she found it for you. You end up getting to keep your huge pinecone, but Luke is crushed. Meanwhile, the green pinecone sits lonely on the bench and I feel terrible for the pinecone grief I’ve created. 

I put the huge pinecone in the back of the car, since it likely has bugs hidden inside. Our goodbye is short and quick as we were never able to find a huge pinecone for Luke. He is still crying and pining away for a huge pinecone as Nicole tries to convince him that the pinecones belong in the forest. Later, we found out it took Luke quite a while to forget about the pinecone. 

Hours later, back at home I realize that the huge pinecone is still in the back of the car far from it’s forest home, forgotten by all except me (and maybe still Luke). I go out to retrieve it with visions of bugs escaping and lodging between the seats of our car or throwing themselves a beach party in the bits of sand left behind from our previous beach adventures. I get it and leave it on our porch. 

Weeks later and brittled by the sun, it is still there, untouched. Yet somehow, in that moment at the school playground, that pinecone was absolutely everything. I wonder if the green pinecone is still on the bench?

We’ve enjoyed our family bike rides this summer. You zip around pedaling on your two-wheeled bike like it’s not a big deal. You’ve acquired killer scrapes and scabs to prove you can handle anything the bike path throws your way. You are so tough and fast. You are amazing on your bike and you love it. We are getting you a new bike for your birthday as you already seem to be outgrowing this one. 

One night, only a few days after our Shelton View Forest pinecone ordeal, we were speeding along the sidewalk, our family of four with eight wheels, when suddenly you spot a pinecone on the sidewalk. Instantly, your love of pinecones was revived. Almost just as quickly as it was spotted, I heard and felt the crushing wood scales of the pinecone under my front tire. “Oh no!” I realized before it was too late. Just like that, your pinecone dreams were crushed and left there on the sidewalk. 

“Noooooo!” you screamed to a halt on your bike. “That was my pinecone! You ran over it!” as you flung your head and upper body over the front of your bike in complete despair like a sack of flour. 

Unlike the playground, there weren’t tons of pine cones around. We were on a sidewalk near a busy road.  Suddenly, one is spotted across the street. Your dad, makes note that the street is currently clear of cars and quickly pedals over to retrieve the loner pinecone. “Oh great,”  I think. “Getting hit by a car is totally worth this and again… it’s all my fault.” Instead of leaving behind the precious pinecone, this time like all your hopes and dreams, I had crushed it.

The new pinecone was retrieved and brought over to you. Immediately you are relieved and composed enough to be able to ride again. Of course, you don’t have a free hand, pocket or bike basket to put the precious pinecone in so your dad hands it to me. Again, I am left with a pinecone. In my pocket it goes. 

I can’t even tell you what happened to that pinecone. I think it made it home but it was totally forgotten about the minute your helmet was off your still-larger-than-average head. But it doesn’t matter. In those moments, as an almost five-year-old, those pinecones are life. 

John, you are a like a green pinecone. Special and uniquely made beyond comparison. There may be others that come along: big ones, cute little ones, ones filled with bugs, but none quite like you. I left the green pinecone there on the bench on the playground where my world as a five-year-old expanded and bloomed as I know yours will too. I pray you realize your importance and place in this world. I know things will get tougher than a lost or crushed pinecone. I will be here for you.

A few days ago, we came across some mini pinecones on our vacation. You picked up four and gifted one to each of us. It is then that I realized, I don’t need to keep the pinecones. There are endless amounts of them. They are like moments with you, sweet and gifted to me from the Father above. They pass quickly by and yet, there are so many more to come. So many more to find and treasure. Happy Birthday, John!

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