When I was a very young man — really a child come to think of it — I lived in Vermont, down the road from Peter Schwartz, who like me was the son of an English teacher who rented a house during June July and August to pick up a little extra money teaching summer school. A few years ago, after Miranda died and I sold the house in the city I came back to Vermont, and like my father taught summer school.
One day during recess the local children showed me a game they played with a pinecone. They would spin it like a top but always take one of the (do you call them sepels?) one of the wooden slats that make up a pinecone and turn it down. What do you call that game? I asked. That, Mr. Kaplan, is called a Pinecone Peter!
Come quickly! There is not a moment to lose!
Taking the pinecone as a map expressed in a polar co-ordinate system and the depressed sepel (or do you call it a slat? If you’ve seen a large pinecone you know what I mean) I rushed to the field where I used to play with Peter, pushed up into the hills and came upon the entrance to a cave, which was blocked by a fallen pine tree. “Help me move this!” I called to the children. We pulled it away.
Deep within the cave I saw what I expected and what I hoped. Peter, now an old man, having subsisted on tree ear fungus and rain water had survived. “I’ve rescued you!.”
You see as a child he had been trapped and had no recourse but to teach the children’s game of pinecone Peter to another child, who had passed it on to his children, and their children, always with the same name, always with the sepel (or slat?) depressed in the same place, so that some day someone — and it had been me — would decode his message and rescue him.
What else in my life is like Pinecone Peter? I hope to someday find out.