Golden Pine

May 22, 2007 by  
Filed under Destinations

The Golden Pine Cone

 

In The Golden Pinecone the brother and the sister climb into a high
valley and the pine tree with its cone is outlined against a clear sky on a
ridge just at timberline. A branch juts out at right angles to the trunk and
the cone hangs from it. It is a normal pine tree in every way, and the cone is
average as well, but something happens during the children's ascent to this
place that renders the pinecone golden and supernatural. The brother and sister
have troubled relations with their parents, and their hike into the region of
the pine tree and its cone is a quest to solve the parents' problem, which is lack
of love for each other, and the pine cone is the key which provides the answer
to the riddle of why they don't. The boy climbs the tree and picks it for his
sister, who carries it down the mountain and back home.

 

I read The Golden Pine Cone while I was sick in bed and its reading took
the exact length of the day on which I was sick. My mother, who didn't often do
such things, brought food to my bedside and asked me about the book and I felt
the magic of the book and the pine cone spreading warmth into the room. I hoped
that I would remain sick for another day so that I could do the same thing with
another book. My mother brought me hot lemon drinks and put an woolen sock with
hot potatoes in it around my neck and said this is how one cured bad throats.
The sock itched and she put a dishtowel underneath it, but the edges of the
sock still touched my neck. My sister was at school, and it was an only time I
can remember being at home alone with my mother.

 

Carcajou

 

In the book Carcajou the wolverine knows everything about the trapper and he
robs the trapper's traps every time he puts them out, and since the two of them
are the only beings in the high valley where the story takes place, it is a
battle of wits in which the martens and mink and weasels the trapper is trying
to catch have no part. The trapper tries poison, which Carcajou recognizes; the
trapper holds vigil with a gun through cold nights near the traps, and Carcajou
doesn't come; he tries to track Carcajou to his lair, and Carcajou keeps
moving, sleeping in different dens during the day (which is when wolverines
sleep-if they sleep at all, which they may not do, according to this story) and
he covers so much ground with his small animal body that the trapper gets lost
and starts to go mad. Carcajous or wolverines are the fiercest animals in the
weasel family (Mustela)
and they have been known to take on bears in a fight over a carcass and to
chase the bear away. Once, in the book, the trapper observes Carcajou, from a
distance, confronting a pack of wolves, and even the wolves back away, after
forming a circle around the wolverine and growling.

 

At the end of the book, Carcajou
and the trapper meet at the trapper's cabin. Both of them know that the story
will come to this because their minds are now linked: the animal knows the man
and the man knows the animal: both know they are part of a larger knowledge
which is contained in that high valley. A kind of riddle. The confrontation
occurs after Carcajou, who, after traveling through three valleys, pursued by
the trapper (the trapper doesn't know which valley he's in), has already
doubled back and ransacked the trapper's cabin before the latter, exhausted and
near full madness, stumbles into the clearing around it. He sees the
destruction, and he sees, in the dark of the cabin, the gleaming yellow eyes of
Carcajou looking out a him. He goes fully mad in this moment and cannot
recognize whether the eyes he sees are imaginary or real, are an animal's or a
spirit's, or are his own; and since he has no one to talk to about this, except
the animal itself, which he has already been talking to in his mind and his
dreams throughout the story, he decides to leave the valley. There is a silence
in the valley after he leaves.

 

Where Do I Read?

 

I read books in the library while
sitting at one of the tables near the windows where the light comes in and
shines on your pages when the book is propped up in front of you. Don Sperry always
sits on the other side of the table from me reading books about rocket ships
and space and I wonder how rocket ships, which have no blood flowing through
them, can be interesting to read about.
Don Sperry and I have contests about who can read the most books and get their
library card filled up fastest and get a shiny new one after the old one is all
crumply and stamped with dates. Don Sperry always wins these contests, because,
so I think, he wears glasses and can read faster, and maybe also because space
ships are faster than animals, and fewer things happen to them. Animal stories
and stories about trappers and explorers and sometimes Indians are the only
things I read about.

 

The books I choose must have nature
in their titles. I walk along the shelves underneath the windows on the sunny
side of our school library and I bend my head sideways to read the titles on
the spine, and I can tell right away if there are animals or nature or trappers
and explorers and Indians in the story. The titles on the book spines look
sometimes like they are holding up the book shelf above them but this isn't
true. When I pick out a stack of five books and carry them over to Mrs.
Anscombe's desk she takes out the card in the sleeve inside the front cover of
each and stamps a date on it and then she stamps my card and gives it back to
me. I get five stamps in my card. Sometimes when I am walking to Mrs.
Asncombe's desk I look over at Don Sperry to see how many books about rocket
ships and space he is checking out. I can't beat Don Sperry in reading and it
is lucky we are friends: we don't fight.

 

Sometimes I'm scared of Mrs. Anscombe because she has piercing eyes
that look like sharpened pencils when she looks at me over her spectacles,
which are attached to a silver chain that goes around her neck. Sometimes Mrs.
Anscombe punishes us with her sharp voice, when we talk in library period, for
example, which is supposed to be silent. She uses this voice, too, to announce
that library period is over. She strikes a bell on her desk to emphasize this,
and this is an even sharper sound than a voice in an otherwise quiet place.

 

 

More About Mrs. Anscombe

 

The sounds she makes and her look
makes me worry that she is angry a lot of the time. I always think that if Don
Sperry and I read lots of books and get lots of stamps from her on our library
card she will become a happier person and will smile at us for being good
readers. The other things I notice about Mrs. Anscombe are that she is very
large and has broad shoulders, grey hair, and hair on her upper lip. She looms over
the book checkout counter with her large body and pierces us with her voice and
her eyes, and I know only older women have hair on their upper lip and older
people are wise, so I think she must be wise, too, because she has read many
books, enough to make her a librarian. I'm just sad that she is angry so often
at other people who don't read as much as she does. I'm glad she is not a giant
or a mountain crag, ready to cascade down on top of me.

 

The Book I'm Reading Now

 

In a book I'm reading a boy who is
a teenager goes into a high valley to trap in the fall and then gets trapped
himself by an early winter and can't get back out through the pass. He survives
by his wits. He builds a lean-to against a cliff and sleeps on spruce boughs,
which he renews every week, and he sews himself a sleeping bag made from rabbit
and squirrel skins. He uses bones for a needle and squirrel sinew to sew with.
He eats beaver that he traps and he becomes particularly fond of the tails,
which are tender and have a bit less of the musky flavour that beaver meat
normally has. He eats rabbits of course, which he snares, and when his pants
wear out he sews himself a pair of pants, leggings really, made entirely from
squirrel skins. He sews two skins back to back so there is fur on the inside
and fur on the outside. After surviving the winter and coming back down into
the valley in spring and astounding his parents and friends by being still
alive, he returns to the high valley the next year-this is in a sequel to the
story-and he spends three winters there, trapping for a living. This time he
builds himself a cabin, and wears normal clothes, drinks tea, and even takes a
bit of sugar up with him. He dries his own meat and makes bannock from flour
that he has packed with him. I've read these books twice and hope there are
more stories about this boy who's becoming a mountain man.

 

Dear Mrs. Anscombe

 

I remember now more exactly how
your library card system works. We bring
our stack of books to your desk, over which you loom with your massive grey
body like a crag, and you open the books' back covers where the little envelope
pockets are glued so neatly (do you glue them there yourself?) and where the
books' cards are kept. You take the yellowish-brownish cards out and stamp them
with the date and also with the date on which the books are due. Then you put
the cards in a filing drawer which you keep on your counter, and it stays there
when we take the books home. On our own library cards, which are the same
colour as the books' cards and have lines printed on them, you write the title
of each book we are taking out, and you stamp the date when it is due. Then,
when we return the book, you stamp that date beside the due date.

 

So the important idea, in my and
Don Sperry's competition, is to get your library card filled up quickly-on both
sides; the lines go over to the back-and the strategy is to read fast so that
the date when you return the books is well in advance of the date when it is
due. This means you are a "fast reader," and you can show your library card to
others, including Don, to demonstrate this ability. A special honour is gained
if the date you return the book is the same date as when it was signed out,
because this means you have read the book in one day. This is what happened to
me with The Golden Pine Cone book, which
I read when I was sick (although I didn't return it until the next day so the
stamped date is one day late). Don and I keep our old, full library cards to
show off how many we have filled up. When Don Sperry reads with his glasses on
he always sits very straight in his chair with the book propped up in front of
him on the table and he has already got his finger behind the next page so he
can flip fast and not lose momentum.

 

Reading,
even though you can talk about it, is a secret activity, and I am writing you
this because I know that even though you are sometimes angry and scary and look
like a crag, you might not be a dangerous person. Books are silent, and the
library, except when you ring the bell or command us to put back or check out
our books because library period is over, is a quiet place and this is unusual
for a school in which teachers or other children are usually talking at you and
interrupting your thoughts. I like being reminded about what I am thinking,
which is what happens when I read books, and when I forget things, I can go
back to the books and be reminded again. This is good when it happens in a
quiet place. I hope you will not be mad at me for describing you in evil ways,
because I don't think you are evil. Maybe you just don't like noise. A lot of
people have secrets and angry thoughts that can sometimes give them mad faces
and sometimes make them talk loudly and abruptly, and writing and reading are
good ways to calm oneself down and make one speak softly about the secret
things one is thinking. Sometimes when you have a problem with your parents or
with teachers or with other people that you love, for example, you can write
and read about it and not get so angry.
I hope you won't tell on me to the other teachers (or to my parents) for
talking about how noisy they sometimes are.

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Norbert Ruebsaat teaches Media and Communication Studies at Columbia Collage and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver B.C. He publishes regularly in periodicals and newspapers, has produced documentaries for CBC Radio’s Ideas program, and has twice been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards in fiction and creative non-fiction.