The Pine Nut Wars


The business of pine nuts is a serious one.

I spoke with a conservation inspector last year, the fellow singly responsible for enforcing wildlife and natural resource law across all of Ternei County–an area larger than Massachusetts–in northern Primorye, Russia. He recounted his experiences in 2008, a year when the pine forests yielded an atypically productive harvest of cones packed with commercially-valuable pine nuts. People fell over themselves to profit from this bounty, and the inspector animatedly recalled numerous skirmishes fought over the resource.

In one case, a band of Chinese shishkari (pine nut collectors) were robbed of their harvest by Russian competitors from the village of Malaya Kema, men who stumbled upon the Chinese camp and its neatly-organized sacks of cones while their owners were in the forest collecting more. The Chinese men returned to find their hoard missing, rushed out in pursuit, and were almost surprised they found the robbers so quickly. They rounded a curve in the forest road to see the Russians cursing and smoking and bent under the hood of their truck. Their get-away vehicle had selected an untimely moment to break down. The Russian thieves were beaten with sticks and the stolen cones triumphantly reclaimed. The Chinese victory was short lived, however. The Kema men fixed their truck, returned to their village to rally compatriots, and descended on the Chinese camp with rifles. The Chinese team decided against the indignity of burial in hastily-dug graves in the Russian wilderness; opting instead to cede the forest and leave their aromatic treasures behind.

Continue reading “The Pine Nut Wars”

The Draw of the Pine


2014 was a bumper year for pine nuts in the forests of Primorye; the enormous Korean pines of the region produced then dropped countless cones dripping with resin and packed tight with nuts onto the soft forest floor. In response, droves of shishkari, pine cone collectors, mobilized and descended on the forest with massive white sacks that entered empty and left bursting at the seams. The activities of the shishkari were not as evident during daylight hours, when their camps were hidden behind veils of willow and birch that lined the road, but when driving at night the dark forests twinkled with shishkari campfires with such regularity that it gave the impression of steering along a lighted pathway. By the end of the season, the forest floor had been as though vacuumed of its cones. Continue reading “The Draw of the Pine”