Pinon Nuts

By Curt Struna • July 13, 2014

I worked on a construction site in the outback of Utah a long time ago. There was a Navaho reservation nearby and a lot of Navaho were working on the site. As you spoke with them, they would constantly be cracking and crunching and spitting out the shells. I finally asked what all the cracking and crunching was about and was told that they were eating pinon nuts. I was given a few. They are like pistachio nuts but smaller, and they are delicious. I asked were they got them and was told that their wives harvested them from the pinon trees in the area. Being the curious soul that I am, I paid a visit to a man in my car pool that was Navaho, and asked his wife for directions to the pinion trees. She told me how to get there and it sounded real simple. I’m simple, it should work.

I didn't have a four-wheel drive and set out on roads, dirt paths really, for which there are no maps. I drove through massive canyons, and just following the tire tracks. I must have missed a turn. At one point the road went downhill and became a dried-up river bed that turned into a series of small ledges that got larger the further I went. One particular ledge made me aware that I had closed off all retreat and could only go forward from then on. I finally met up with a small river that I would have to cross. The tire tracks I'd been following could be seen on the muddy hill on the other side. I would have to get a running start, cross the river, shoot up the hill and make a sharp left turn.

A herd of cows were blocking the way. They weren't disturbed by the sound of my blaring car horn. I got out and chased them away to make a space in the herd so that I could cross the river, but by the time I got back in my van and got up enough speed to cross the river and climb the hill, they had closed the gap. After a couple times of getting out and moving the cows only to have them play the same dirty trick again and again, I lost what little reserve I had left and just drove straight at them at full speed like a maniac. They parted like the Red Sea at the last minute. Scared? You bet. Lost? Of course. Several hours later I found the main highway, got out and kissed it, and headed home.

As I was driving back home, I remembered that they sold pinion nuts at the local general store. Not wanting to come home and lose face with my wife, I stopped and paid about five dollars for a handful of pinons. I took them out of the bag and put them in my pocket. When I got home I gave them to my wife to show her that if there are pinon nuts that need finding, I'm your man. I also told her what I'd gone through to find them. She figured out where I really got them after finding the little bag that they came in and after I broke under questioning.

Curt Struna

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