“Look! Look!” she screamed, eyes wide, smiling from ear to hear.
Each time we arrived at the spot on the side walk on our block, she said the same thing with the same excitement as she had the first time she saw them.
“Pine cones!” Arya would point and exclaim, as if she had just unwrapped the perfect gift for her birthday. Or Christmas. Or both.
We would then spend what seemed like hours beneath the mature pine trees, as we searched for the latest cone or two to be added to the growing collection. Throughout the years of navigating our block with Arya, the exact standards that made for an acceptable pine cone have always been kind of a mystery, but that’s been part of the enjoyment of it all.
We had started gathering pine cones, a few here and there, in her stroller. As time went along, we would store a few in her little wagon. Then it was her tricycle basket, and most recently it has been her bicycle basket. After a while, it seemed that they were everywhere.
In an effort to try to keep them all in one place, and after making a promise that I would keep them safe, I found an old canning jar on a shelf in the garage. I figured that the old jar was as good a place as any to temporarily keep her treasure. Besides, soon enough, she would grow out of it and forget about the cones. But, for the time being, I had a promise to keep.
After a walk during her most recent visit, six (and a half…) year-old Arya awarded the last two pine cones their rightful places in the now-filled canning jar.
After she had gone home, I picked up the jar from the dining room table and looked at the cones through the glass. It needed a place to sit for now, but the dining table was not that place.
At first I thought I’d take it down to the spare room, where the grandkids play and sleep when they stay with us. Upon reaching the doorway of the room, I played out all the scenarios in my head where a big glass jar, pine cones and grandkids might end badly. So, I decided to put the jar down in my little den on a bookshelf with some other artifacts. It wouldn’t be there long, I thought to myself. Soon enough, I would be able to throw the whole works away.
I always thought it was kind of silly that we would stop the world to look at something as random and plentiful as pine cones. They aren’t what one would associate with being rare, beautiful or valuable. It would seem that they are none of those things, at least in the world of items to collect, anyway. I was humoring her, I thought, engaging in play time and exploring the neighborhood. It was simple as that. That is, until recently.
A funny thing started to happen whenever I returned to my den. Each time I’d go in there, my eyes would be drawn to the jar. In a small room filled with thousands of my own exhibits of things and stuff, I found myself spending time gazing at the jar. It seemed odd that the one thing in the room I almost couldn’t wait to get rid of had become quite interesting.
Then it hit me. How could I have missed it? It was right there, right in front of me.
Why was I so ready to discount what we had taken so much time to collect? Why did I not see the magic in it all? I felt embarrassed that I didn’t immediately see the possibilities, and grateful that I finally came around to them.
What I have on my bookshelf today, indeed, is an old canning jar filled with little pine cones. No one would argue that. However, thanks to the foresight and imagination of our six (and a half…) year-old grand child, it is also a time capsule, a museum, a record of events. It is a magical vessel containing pieces that tell a story, the epic four-year tale of a little girl and her adventures.
Each pine cone is a separate entry in a journal filled with an unforgettable journey. This cone was from the time she saved the pet horses and dogs from dragons and other imaginary villains. Another cone was from the day she shared with our neighbor the details of the day’s adventure. A larger cone was from the day we solved the mystery of time travel with sidewalk chalk. One cone was from the time we crossed a bridge above lava alligators to get to the princess in time to take her to the dance to meet the prince; the one next to it was from the day she took her stuffed animal friends on a trip to explore space in the red wagon rocket ship. Another cone is from a sidewalk grocery shopping expedition because, after all, even a time-traveling adventurer needs to eat.
For every cone, there is a story, and a memory that will be with me until the end of time. As for the jar and its contents, it has found a permanent place within the walls of my den, enshrined with other relics from days gone by.
In the end, I’ve learned some valuable lessons from the old jar of pine cones, and from the experiences contained within. When I deny my ability to see things not only as they are, but as they could be, I am blind to otherwise endless possibilities. Likewise, when I deny myself creativity or play, I also deny a large part of who I am. To be able to see the magic in something so simple is a priceless gift. And those priceless gifts, it seems, are everywhere, if I remain open to seeing them. Lastly, I have learned to be aware that almost anyone or anything, at any time, can be a portal to the priceless.
There will always be adulting to do. Bills must be paid, lawns must be mowed, and oil must be changed. But in between laundry days and pay days, between commitments and errands, requirements and standards, there must be time to play.
So, I encourage you to set the weight of adulting down. Turn off the news and leave your phone in a drawer somewhere. It will all be there when you get back.
Hunt for your very own pine cones. Put a few here, and a few there, as a reminder. Explore space. Save horses and pet dogs, or vice versa. Find a princess or prince. Share with a neighbor. Cross bridges. Grab some chalk and travel through time. Experience the thrill of seeing lava alligators in their natural habitat. And don’t forget to set aside time for a grocery shopping expedition. After all, even a time-traveling adventurer needs to eat.