His grandfather had shown him how to take Digger pine cones when they were ripe but still tight and roast them over a fire. As the scales opened in the heat, a bounty of bean sized nuts would fall out to be shelled and eaten on the spot.
These cones had opened naturally. The nuts were mostly gone, but a few had failed to fall out, especially those near the top of the cone and he soon had a handful. He popped a few into his mouth – and almost broke his teeth. These nuts had grown to full maturity. They were as hard as pebbles.
Tim felt like cursing and he felt like crying, but he was too weak and hungry to do either. It took half an hour to return to his shelter, revive the fire, get two more baskets of water, crush the nuts to flour between two rocks, and cook up a thin pine nut soup. But when he was finished, nothing had ever tasted so good.
* * *
Tim rested and warmed himself by the fire. Soon he began to feel some strength returning. He took the time to drag up firewood, then returned to the Jeffrey pine.
His weakness had scared him, and he was determined to get the rest of the cones that hung so tantalizingly out of reach. He would have to climb now while he still had the energy.
First he checked his ankle. Some of the swelling had left it, so he removed the splint, boot, and sock. Other than the white, wrinkled skin which came from not removing his boot for several days, the foot looked normal enough. He replaced the boot, lacing it even tighter, and bound the splint back in place. He still couldn’t walk without a crutch, but at least he didn’t think he would pass out if he hit his ankle.
Certainly, he had better not.
He took off his belt and left his knife, canteen, and cased firestone at the base of the tree. There was about ten feet of smooth trunk before the growth went wild where the lighting had split the tree. If he could get that far, he would be able to range about the middle area of the tree in search of cones.
Flipping the belt around the tree trunk, he grasped it with both hands and raised it high. He hoisted himself up by hanging from the belt, and gripped the tree trunk with his thighs. Then he quickly shifted the belt upward several inches.
He wasn’t going to make it. Already his head was swimming.
He gripped the tree with his legs and flipped the belt higher. Tears squeezed from his eyes and sweat beaded his face. He heaved the belt up again. His breath came in gasps. He flipped the belt higher again, but it slipped when he put his weight on it.
Here he was with his feet barely three feet above the ground, and anyone could see that he was already played out. Only there wasn’t anyone there to see it. He was alone. He had to live or die right here, right now, without anyone’s help.
He flipped the belt upward again.
How he made it to the lightning formed crotch, Tim never knew. The same determination which had carried him this far simply would not let him give up. more tomorrow