Late that summer in the evening sun, pausing to ask permission from the spirits before entering their forest. Climbing the hillside, feet kicking up clouds of dry, powdery soil, the dust hanging in the air. Emerging out into the clearing to survey the trees around us, sizing up the giant seed-cones with their bounties of fruit. Climbing again, this time just one, a lone figure dexterously scaling the tree, the nimble body intuiting the path, instinctive, without hesitation or fear, unfazed by the rough armour of foliage, hard and sharp, unforgiving yet giving to those who know how. Then the sound of rustling from atop, the figure trying to prise loose a seed-cone, premature perhaps, the first of the season. The tree resisting, unwilling to give up its treasures without a struggle. Time passing, the last golden rays of sun fading, the shadows creeping up the mountains across the valley, submerging the rocks and forests and leaving a coolness in the air. Gazing up at the tree in anticipation, scanning among the thrashing branches for the source of the noise. Then suddenly, prised loose, sent sailing through the air, the seed-cone falls to Earth, round like a football, heavy like a stone, landing with a dull thud that shakes the ground.

Later, as the evening begins to fade and the first stars appear in the boundless Chilean sky, we prise one of the seed-cones open to reveal the bounty inside. After giving thanks to nature and its spirits, we boil up some of the pine nuts and place them in a bowl on the table: warm and steaming, sweet to the taste. They are the first of that year’s harvest, the fruits of the pewen, or Araucaria araucana, the lifeblood of the Pewenche, whose name quite literally means the people of the pewen.

First published on Elsewhere: A journal of place.