By E. E. Stanford
A wise old owl sat in an oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke
THIS OWL, however, got his start in a pine tree. It was a knob-cone pinea rather scrubby conifer of the rocky slopes of the coast ranges in California. The slender cones are woody-hard and colored like fresh-roasted coffee, They are tenacious things, often staying on the branches till increasing diameter-growth thrusts them off or, failing in that, envelopes them in wood. Whether the cones fall or whether they don't, they are as "tight" as the proverbial Scotsman. Only under the heat of a forest fire do the close-lapped scales curl back slowly to let the wind flutter the winged seeds over the devastated area. For the sake of the knob-cone species, and also for the sake of the bared soil, this fire-opening is a lucky provision of Nature.
If it were not for constant vigilance of California foresters, the knobcone pine cones would open pretty frequently in these days of automobiles and cigarettes. Thanks to that vigilance, however, life often becomes rather dull for the patiently waiting seed-cases. Some ingenious Californian took pity on this one, cut off a few of the basal scales to make the "owl's" flattened face, sharpened the woody stem that protruded, painted on the eyes, and left the close-pressed scales to simulate the plumage. This one serves as a mantel ornament. Perhaps, some day, the grate fire will get hot enough to lift the plumage-scales, scatter the seed, and astonish the pine-owl's owner.