I always forget to kick the pine cones out of the way before I engage in the most strenuous but gratifying of male Freudian rituals: vernal weed whacking.
The wicked looking cones I am speaking of drop like small bombs from the gray (formerly digger) pines (Pinus sabiniana), -- the familiar California endemic that sparsely cloaks the dry slopes of the inner coastal range and Sierra Nevada foothills.
To add insult to injury each spine comes with a blob of pitch.
You won't find a single one in Nevada or Oregon, and they're manna to the western gray squirrel.
Anyway, as I kicked a cone out of the way a large seed popped out and my foraging instinct kicked in.
These nuts, I observed, are bigger than the pignoli the Redhead buys in the market and toasts for salads and pastas. And if your time isn't worth money they're much cheaper too.
An hour later I was drained by the grueling rite of spring but had sufficient reserves to go back and gather the errant cones which I set beside the garage for solar toasting.
By week's end the thorny scales had opened and relinquished their bounty -- a fistful of nuts the color of roasted coffee beans.
It was time to work on the cones, and I was soon caught-up in knocking their nuts loose.
In my gnarly grip the hooked thorns broke off on the pavement, but I was not spared the pine cone's other revenge -- gummy fingers.
I can sympathize with the squirrels with pitch besmirched cheeks.
Pine nuts are hard to crack, but it doesn't take much to work out a system.
A small bench vice worked better for me than a snub-nosed pliers.
With a turn of the screw you can control the compressive force of the jaws much better.
I cracked 159 nuts and found that 38% were shriveled duds.
I have enough however to garnish our salads next week when the camera trappers rendezvous at the Chimineas Ranch.
PS: Fred the squirrel impersonator and guess who got in trouble
when someone rubbed his pitch-dabbed cheeks on the carpet.