What You Have to Set Free

Pine Cone Maturity / esu.edu

Walking to my classroom today, I passed a cluster of pines.  Beneath their branches, a perfect circle of pine cones posed like ornaments shaken from a Christmas tree. 

I stopped to consider what it might mean that a tree would drop all of its pine cones.  It seemed like loss; I felt longing in my heart. 

I know that the cone is just the protective cover for hundreds of seeds housed within it.  Once a year, a pine tree drops its pine cones to the forest floor.  If you pick one up, you can gently shake it to release tiny seeds–black dots in thin paper–that might not have yet flown free. 

Normally, the pine cone stays on the branch, opens up when the weather is dry, and lets the wind disseminate all her seeds.  Then, she’ll drop to the forest floor.  The whole process takes about a year. 

Something about opening up, releasing those seeds, and then dropping to the ground like that made me wonder about the gifts we disperse, the creative acts we protect and then finally circulate, and the offspring or relationships we let loose.  It’s all part of the process–shaking our pine cones free–emancipating things that we need to release and no longer control.  A pine tree forest’s survival depends upon the ability to protect a seed and then send it out.  The remnant of that cone on the forest floor is proof that it let something go

If I were a pine tree, I’d want thousands of cones beneath my feet.  I’d gaze upon the cones to remind myself of what I released into the world and didn’t keep for myself.  And I know there’s something we lose with every release.  There will always be that vessel in our hearts–that tiny cone–to remember what we wanted to hold onto but knew we had to set free.