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Straight Outta Hillerman

Straight Outta Hillerman
September 18
10:24 2015

You can pick a peck of pickled peppers, perhaps – but beware of poaching pinon pine nuts, pal.

Especially near the Thompson property at Navajo Mountain.


Tony Hillerman

It sounds like the plot of the next Tony Hillerman novel, and even features a police officer named Jim Chee and skinwalkers! Okay, actually it’s Jimell Chee.

And the skinwalkers are rubber Halloween masks and coyote skins made to look like the otherworldly beings.

It all sounds nuts!

It is fall on the Navajo reservation and that means pinon picking time. Now any Navajo may pick pinons for personal use, but a permit is needed for those collecting them to sell for commercial use.

Pinon pine nuts can be found throughout the southwest. They are the fanciest of all nuts; smaller, cuter, with a sweet, subtle flavor. They are also quite expensive.

Some people have collected enough nuts to trade them in for a new Navajo Cadillac (that’s a pick-up truck for those of you not familiar with Nativia).

Just as some fishermen like to keep “their spot” secret, pinon pickers are determined to protect their special picking places.

“I saw people parked on the side of the road, some of them were running and jumping over barbed wire fences,” said Angie Williams, of Red Mesa. “Or trying to squeeze in between the wires, I thought it was funny because the guys were wearing tight cowboy jeans!”

Williams wanted to talk to some of the people picking pinons, but when she approached a woman she was met with a barrage of sand rocks and edibles!

“One woman started yelling at me and throwing sand rocks. When she ran out of the rocks she looked through her bag and started throwing her lunch at me,” Williams said. “She even threw her kid’s Jell-O pudding snacks at me!”

But Williams understood that the woman was trying to defend “her” secret picking spot.

But throwing pudding snacks is amateur stuff compared to the Thompson clan.

In the Page, Ariz., “Online Yard Sale” site, James Thompson posted a warning to his neighbors. Anyone caught picking pinon nuts on the Thompson’s land would run the risk of being shot for trespassing!

The Thompsons also distributed flyers and posted one at a local trading post.

The “friendly” warnings also reminded people to pick up their trash and not to beat the pinon trees.

Shaking the trees too hard bruises the nuts and drastically reduces their value.

James Thompson’s warning was soon removed from the online site.

The warning posted at the trading post said that trespassers would be punished – and also said that booby traps had been set.

This is where Officer Jimell Chee and the Navajo Police Department got involved. Several officers arrived at the Thompson boundary to look for booby traps.

They found several family members hiding in the pine trees and watching them, using homemade binoculars – made from beer bottles!

They did find booby traps, too.

A trashbag full of tools was hidden in a tree so anyone shaking it would get a knot on the head instead of a nut in the basket. There were also plastic skeletons and snakes.

Police also found paint cans swing from trees and an arc welder connected to several of the trees.

“You name it, it was there,” Chee said. Police think the family may have watched too many “Home Alone” movies, Chee added.








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