Pinecone Cooking

10:18 minutes

—Chapter 7—

“Pinecone Cooking”

WINTER was near. Fallen leaves whirled delirious in the numbing autumn wind. Up a forest path, under an arm-aching load of twigs, stumbled Jelly Belly Bear. He was accelerating the chapping of his lips by whistling a cheery melody. Jelly Belly enjoyed all the seasons. Patchwork fall, stark-white winter, polka-dot spring, golden-bright summer.

Beneath the rustic treehouse, the stubby bear clattered brittle twigs into a dangling milk bucket. The once shiny bucket now served as a freight elevator. Jelly Belly straightened up with a sigh.

“Takes a lot of twigs to keep a winter fire,” he thought. The idea of a blazing fire reminded him of marshmallows. Jelly Belly paused to dream of toasting crispy-on-the-outside gooey-on-the-inside yummy marshmallows. A sparkling impish grin crept across his fuzzy face. Gathering twigs no longer seemed a dull piffle. He piggishly sniffed the brisk air. He probed for the sweet aroma of the imaginary roasted marshmallow. Skipping a gleeful jig, Jelly Belly grasped the end of a very long and very knotted kite string. Still dreaming of the marshmallow illusion, he gave the string a tug.

Inside the cheerful treehouse, at the other end of the string, a bright little bell jingled.

A clunky trapdoor dropped with a jolt.

The rusty milk bucket soared through the hatch and plopped the loose twigs by the crackling fire.

Down below, Jelly Belly finished his slippery climb over a blanket of crunchy brown pine needles. He wobbled across the tippy gangplank and arrived at the Tree House’s curious entrance. The odd door shape had an overused knob and a silly knocker. The door’s ax-hewn unfinished wood seemed tired and weathered. The discarded task of impressing guests abandoned for a more worthy and exciting project. Perhaps the steam whistle on the roof. Or the lookout tower. Or maybe the rusty pulleys used for raising and lowering other special projects. The whole tree house appeared to be a quaint hodgepodge. Built of whimsical experiments, tests, and inventions. A nippy playful autumn gust spun a squeaky weather vane as Jelly Belly waltzed into the treehouse.

Inside it was comfy and warm. Candles, the fire, and a lantern made slow dancing shadows on the canvas walls. The breeze outside caused the flapping canvas to sing a warm peaceful rhythm. Jelly Belly rummaged around in an oldfangled wooden cupboard. It hung on one tree trunk. He found some carrots and potatoes. He plunked them into a pot of boiling water hanging over the fire.

“An onion, some spice …” he spoke to himself. “A little salt, a little this, a little that …”

In a chef’s hat and apron, he puttered stirring the steamy concoction. Maybe he would have guests pop in for dinner. Jelly Belly, satisfied the vegetable stew stirred, wondered what to fix for dessert. A pie? He would make a pie. Or a cake. Or some cookies. Oodles of cookies.

Still uncertain, but anxious to create something delicious, Jelly Belly sifted and measured flour. He dumped the powdery flour into a mixing bowl with a poof. He poured in some liquid.

“A little this, a little that …” hummed the plump bear. Wiping tickle on his furry brow, he left a gooey trail across his forehead. Oblivious to the blobs of gummy dough coating his paws, elbows, and face, Jelly Belly smeared and poked. Within minutes, the busy bear was buttered with a sticky paste.

“Oops. I seem to be getting messy,” the bear finally said when he noticed a spoon stuck on the back of his paw. He laughed at his own silliness as he stared at the spoon.

“I’m too messy to wash up in here. Guess I’ll go down to the stream.”

His undoing could have been the last sticky step off the gangplank. Or was his mind still on dessert? Jelly Belly landed lickety-split with a thump at the bottom of the hill. His giddy tumble was an unexpected out-and-out surprise. It startled Mister Puffin, a distinguished friend, and ally, coming up the path, too. He dropped his cane and stood speechless gaping at the unrecognizable bear. Jelly Belly looked like a pincushion. Pine needles were stuck topsy-turvy in the dough covering him.

Mister Puffin broke the awkward silence.

“Mister Porcupine?” puzzled the puffin. “Mister Porcupine, what were you doing in Jelly Belly Bear’s Treehouse?”

“No, No, I’m not a Porcupine. I’m Jelly Belly,” replied the dizzy bear.

“If you’re a bear, then why do you have little sharp pointy quills sticking out of your head and arms?” asked Mister Puffin.

“What quills?” quizzed Jelly Belly.

“There and there,” poked the puffin with his cane.

“Hmm. I see what you mean,” said the bear noticing the brown dry pine needles.

How could he convince the bewildered puffin who he really was?

“If you’ll excuse me Mister Puffin, I would like to wash up in the stream. Then you will see who I am.”

Jelly Belly stared at the stream in disbelief. Frozen! So much for washing up outdoors, he thought.

“Mister Puffin …” said Jelly Belly thinking how to show the noble bird he wasn’t a prickly porcupine.

“… I was wondering if you’d accompany myself, a lost …, er … porcupine, back to Mister Jelly Belly’s Treehouse. I’m sure Jelly Belly can explain everything.”

“Are you sure?” said the skeptic bird. “Why bears know most everything,” boasted Jelly Belly.

The puffin squinted through his spectacles with a puzzled look.

He blinked twice and began to smile and nod his head.

“Why, Jelly Belly, it is you,” muttered Mister Puffin, “I must admit you fooled me with your disguise. Are you on a top-secret mission?”

Jelly Belly sighed with relief. Here was a good friend and soon his welcome guest for dinner and dessert. Hmm, dessert, he would cook a dessert. Later, after a warm relaxing bath, Jelly Belly trotted down the stairs. Draped in his robe and slippers, he had a wet towel in one hand and a scrap of paper in the other.

“I composed a poem while in the bath,” he proudly stated to Mister Puffin. “Would you like to hear it?”

The puffin was putting the finishing touches on setting the table. The aroma of a delicious dessert swirled in the air.

“Oh, I see you made some rhubarb cobbler. That’s what I was going to make before … before I fell in the pine needles,” pretended the bear. The puffin rolled his eyes and glanced over at the disastrous bowl of goop Jelly Belly had made. A spoon protruded out of the center as if embedded in solid pine sap. Jelly Belly noticed the indignant bird glaring at the spoiled mess.

“Well, next time I’ll follow the recipe,” Jelly Belly said guiltless. He picked up the offensive bowl by the glued spoon and set it a frowsy box labeled trash.

“I never liked that bowl anyway,” he shrugged.

Mister Puffin smiled at the bear’s predictable embarrassment.

“Now, let’s hear your composition,” said the puffin.

The spunky bear was glad to change the subject from his cooking spree to his latest creation, a bathtub poem. He sprawled in an oversized willow-wicker chair. He took a deep breath and delightedly launched into his old-fashioned poetic dramatization.

The Flying Bear

A little slip, a royal flip and he commenced a zany trip. The world did whirl. His head did twirl. Tumble and jumble.

Round and round like a bouncing sound. Down and down like a whirling clown.

A grand spiraling height;

an astounding sight;

a soaring bear in flight.

Zooming to his zenith such a majestic lump. And down he came with a majestic bump.

“Well? What do you think?” asked the bear with a prankish grin. The puffin could contain himself no longer and let out a warm laugh.

“Oh, oh, oh … That’s a good one. I must say your best yet. Such an inspiration.”

Jelly Belly laughed, too. The poem was comic foolishness; monkeyshines written for his friends. Jelly Belly felt a vibrant zest for life. It was a wonderful moment.

“Come, come. Dinner is waiting,” said the puffin still chuckling. “Such a “majestic” poem deserves a “majestic” meal in celebration. Come and eat.”