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By MARY BEAL/y F GOOD fortune has led you to theV higher desert mountains, you havemet with that distinctive memberof the Pine family, the Pinyon tree. If youdon't know it, let's scrape acquaintancewith it now. There are two important nutpines at home in the desert—
but we'll notethe necessary points of identification laterand* first follow up the Pinyon's line ofhuman interest. Much local color centersaround it, a picturesque ornament thatsets off its utility in goodly fashion.Compared with its numerous majesticrelatives it is the runt of the family, sel-dom exceeding 25 feet, its usual height 10to 20 feet. It furnishes very little shade,even when forming large groves. A Pin-yon forest is open, the trees scattered ratherwidely apart. In true pioneer mannermany of the clan venture into the mostrugged environments pre-empting anyconvenient ledge where a bit of soil offersnourishment. Many a twisted, gnarly Pin-yon have I seen among the crags and pin-nacles of rocky ranges, clinging to precari-ous footholds, its roots often seeming to beembedded in solid rock.Not one of the more imposing pines, ithas been of first importance to life withinits areas. Along the desert-facing slopes ofthe Sierra Nevadas, southward into Mex-ico, eastward throughout most of Nevada,into Utah and Arizona, the fruitfulness ofthe Pinyon has been a godsend to the in-habitants of the surrounding arid regions.Its sweet tasty nuts added richly-nutritiousstores to the primitive pantry.No more picturesque phase of earlytimes among native tribes has been chron-icled than the harvesting of the autumnPinyon crop. A tenderfoot wouldn't ex-pect much from such small cones, measur-ing IV2 to 2V2 inches long and almostglobose, but the nuts take up at least halfof that bulk, each oblong flavorsome mor-sel in its brown paper-shelled case
to %inch long.The cones ripen their seeds in early fallof the second year but the provident In-dian did not wait for the seeds to be re-leased according to nature's schedule.They forced the green cones to open theirscales prematurely by roasting them inhuge bonfires, which put the human nut-gatherers several jumps ahead of the squir-rels, jays, and o.ther nut-lovers of the Pin-yon belt. The nut harvest was importantnot only in the Indian's domestic econ-omy; it was a gala affair, looked forward
Pinyon trees high up in the Providence mountains in eastern Mojave desert.Photo by the author.
to from year to year. Along in September,as many members of the tribe as couldtravel set forth to the mountains, mostlyon horseback, all in merry mood. From thewell-chosen camping spot, all took part inthe joyful work of gathering the tooth-some crop. With long poles the nearly-ripecones were beaten from the trees, gatheredin large baskets or sacks by the womenand children and dumped in huge piles,where the roasting fires were built, en-circled by large stones.It must have been a sticky dirty proceed-ing from start to finish. The trees may bethe nuttiest of their family but they alsohave such a prodigal amount of resin thatone can scarcely come in contact with anypart of a Pinyon without taking on someof the sticky
In good years the trees are so prolificthat the bountiful nut harvest not onlysupplied the Indians' needs but left a gen-erous surplus for sale in accessible mar-kets. Today this custom is carried on in-frequently, the demands of necessity notbeing urgent. Fortunately there are alwayssome whose wishful appetite impels themto make the pilgrimage. I have benefitedmore than once by such Pinyon excur-sions, thanks to the interest of my Pahutefriend Katie the Basketmaker. John Muitpays high tribute to the nut pine as themost important food-tree on the Sierra,and calls it "the Indians' own tree," sohighly prized that in early times they evenkilled white men for cutting them down.Because of its small size the lumberingindustry has had no interest in it, but inthe days of the West's development it fur-nished timber, charcoal, fuel and roughfencing for mines and ranches.The Pinyons are short-trunked and flat-crowned. They start out as shapely littlespires, in traditional Christmas tree form.but as they mature the tops flatten out,the divergent branches often crooked anddrooping.
Botanists give this species two varieties,parryana and monophylla, the latter by farthe most common and listed by some bot-anists as a separate species,
which in common parlance is Sin-gleleaf Pinyon. Its blue-green needle-likeleaves (1 to 2 inches lon£j) are bornesingly, only one in a sheath. The ParryPinyon as a rule has four leaves clusteredin each sheath and is restricted to the drydesert slopes of San Jacinto and Santa Rosamountains. Monophylla is the commonPinyon of the Sierra's eastern slopes andthe high desert ranges of California andNevada, less common in Arizona. Thespecies
cembroides, is known asMexican Pinyon, and carries its leaves inthrees. It flourishes in northern Mexicoand crosses the border into Arizona, NewMexico and western Texas.
This is the predominant Pinvon ofnorthern and central Arizona and the mostwidespread, its range extending eastwardinto western Oklahoma and as far northas southern Wyoming. It has been report-ed in the New York mountains of easternMojave desert. Oftener than other speciesit grows in extensive "pure stands," giv-ing large areas the appearance of huge ap-ple orchards, especially in Arizona andNew Mexico, where the nut crop still findsits way to market in sufficient quantity tobe profitable to its Indian harvesters. Theleaves, unlike those of the foregoingspecies, are not quite cylindric, are deeplychanneled and their color more yellowishgreen.