Friday, June 20, 2014

The Pine Cone Pickers

Did you ever wonder where all the pine cones come from? Hint: There is no such thing as a Pine Cone Store.

Back in the late 1950’s and 1960’s our dad, John Victor Mickman, would drive all us boys out to the Black Hills of South Dakota – the closest location to Minnesota where one can find Ponderosa Pine Trees. Actually, the reason they call them ‘The Black Hills’ is because when you see them from a distance across the prairie, the profuse quantity of Ponderosa Trees make the Black Hills look black!

My dad had a full time job as an engineer at Honeywell, and he would take his 2 week vacation to bring us out there to get the Ponderosa Pine Cones we needed for his Wreath Business. It would take most of this time to ‘pick’ a load of cones in his BIG trailer; he would then take it home to Minnesota and leave us boys in the Black Hills (living in a big army tent) to pick another load (or two) depending on how many we needed.

The first couple of years we did this, dad left just my brother Mark and me out there; the first time we stayed alone we were 10 and 12 respectively. Mark and I were best friends, but we were also high spirited brothers, and there were many times that we got into fights over one thing or another. One afternoon we really got into it. Tempers flared right into the night and we just couldn’t get over it; we went to bed (in our old, ‘army’ sleeping bags) still mad at each other.

The next morning I woke up in the tent and immediately felt there was something different happening. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and looked out the tents’ door flap and saw Mark was up already getting ready to start up the old Coleman Stove to make breakfast; we usually had eggs with tea. He was perfectly still and looking out over a small ravine that had a barbed wire fence on the other side. There, standing stock still at the edge of the fence was an albino deer and her albino fawn. They were both looking directly at my brother and me from a distance of not more than 60 feet. None of the four of us moved for over a minute; we were entranced with the sight; the deer were surprised to see 2 young boys in the middle of nowhere, and my brother and I of the sheer miracle of nature at our doorstep.

After a short time, the two deer effortlessly hopped over the fence and bounded across the field and into the woods. We never saw them again.

After they disappeared, Mark turned to me and asked, “Did you see those deer?”  

“Yeah”, I replied. “Did you see they were pure white – they almost glowed?” Mark started pumping the stove up again and said, “They were albino deer. I bet we’re the only ones in the whole world that have ever seen 2 albino deer at the same time!” And off our young boy chatter began, the fight from the past afternoon and night forgotten.

Two independent young brothers, alone in the wilderness, having to deal with all that life was throwing at us. We needed a miracle, and it could not have come at a better time.

John Mickman