I became enthralled with the Carolinas way back in 1976. It was my first summer home from college and a few buddies of mine in Connecticut and I put together a softball team that we named Wildfire — which was a popular song at the time by Michael Murphy (prior to him adding his middle name of Martin).
He also wrote and recorded the song “Carolina in the Pines” one year earlier and sparked fascination for the Carolinas and their majestic, long-leaf pine trees.
After a wandering journey through Georgia, Indiana and Texas, I finally got here.
When I first transitioned from a born and raised Yankee to a southerner by choice a number of years ago, there were a plethora of endearing factors that took some getting used to.
Y’all had sweet tea and grits and pork barbecue pretty much as a southern staple. Y’all even had the charming “y’all” whenever you spoke to three or more people — and at times will put a twist on it when talking about a group, calling them “they-all.”
But here’s the thing … all of those things, thanks to snow birds and transplants, have now made their way up north. In fact, it’s enough that, when I talk with my high-school buddies, I will hear a “y’all” now and then, sweet tea is common and grits are a comfort food during the winter months.
A few years ago, I even had a life-long Connecticut resident say to me, “Well, bless their heart …” They may have been mocking us southerners, I’m not sure.
But in all the years I’ve been here, there is one thing that always intrigued me about the South that will never make its way into Yankee-land. Ever.
OK, not just pine cones, but ENORMOUS pine cones.
Over my first 10 years here, I imagine that I was known around the neighborhood as “The Pine Cone Whisperer,” because I would regularly meander the streets carrying a plastic bag in search of fallen pine cones. When I would come across one that was in good shape, and of course large, I would bag it and take it home.
Those pine cones would often be sent to family and friends up north. At least a couple of my grandchildren used them for show and tell at school because, well … pine cones up there are puny by comparison.
After about 15 years here, I’m still not sure whether there is a specific time of year the long-leaf pines drop their cones, because they seem to be ever-present on the ground, but I’m hoping spring is a good time to find them. That’s because I’m on a search for the biggest southern pine cone there is — at least in Bladen County.
And by “I’m on a search,” I actually mean that I am asking YOU to search — your yard, your neighbor’s yards, your business property, your pasture … anywhere — and, when you come across what you think is the biggest pine cone, I’d like you to bring it to me here at my office.
But you have to do it wiki-wiki (which, in Hawaiian, mean “fast and quick”) because the deadline is May 1.
Why should you do this? Easy, because the one who brings me the largest, prettiest and real-est pine cone will get a prize package including a specially decorated Mason jar filled with a gift card from Hibachi Chinese restaurant in Elizabethtown and some free bowling cards from Lumberton Bowling Center. The winner will be determined by measuring the cone’s height and it’s circumference, then adding the two together.
So start hunting — and perhaps listening to Murphy’s “Carolina in the Pines” (which really should be the state’s official song) or even James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” would help.
W. Curt Vincent can reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.