Pollen, pollen, pollen. “Get ready, everything’s about to turn green.” The commentary usuallys revs up in late March. Complaining about pollen is standard Atlanta practice—the same way Bostonians talk about the Red Sox.
The ever-sardonic Creative Loafing even published a reminder in April’s first issue:
Pollen, pollen, pollen. “My car is totally green.” The April complaints are not much hyperbole. There is a green haze in the air, a noticeable green layer on everything —including human skin, if one stays outside long enough.
Meanwhile, I was elated about spring. After battening down in winter, I crave fresh air and outside noises—birds, wind rustling through trees. In the same week the pollen emerged, I opened my balcony door, indefinitely. Ergo, a layer of green quickly coated my couch and cushions, the lid of my harmonium, the top of my laptop, the floor nearest the doorframe. But the steady breeze kept too much pollen from settling inside. My vehicle was as green and dusty as any other, though I found no inconvenience.
Pollen pollen pollen. “The pollen count is insane today.” Also not hyperbole. Pollen counts above 90 are considered high—a number which is wishful thinking in a city where the count is routinely above 1000. In mid-April, the count was 8024. The following day, 7809. So yes, ridiculous. Consequently: “My allergies are the worst.”
(I can afford to be a bit more magnanimous, since I don’t have severe allergic reactions, but I am still not immune. This year my pollen-induced cold gave me a couple days of fever, plus more than a week of congestion.)
Meanwhile, I ignored my cold and admired the sakura, the blossoms of ornamental cherry trees. I love the clusters of pink-white petals, the distinct scent—such powerful triggers that I still think of the Japanese word, rather than the name in my native language.
Nowadays, nothing in my life overlaps with the one I had in Japan. Of course, I have many internal reminders—memories, as well as my own sensibilities. My home space has many references to Japan. Otherwise, I never hear, let alone speak, Japanese. I eat primarily with forks and spoons, not chopsticks. Various cuisines, but never Japanese. I live in the hills, not even within sight, let alone the foot, of mountains. I no longer teach in a classroom or even work directly in schools. Sakura, the only external reminder of Japan I have encountered since leaving ten years ago, let me live briefly in both Atlanta and Japan simultaneously.
PollenPollenPollen. “I’m praying for rain so the pollen will go away.” A common variation: “I can’t wait til it rains because the pollen is so bad.” On the evening of the 8024 pollen count day, Atlanta had a typical, magical, southern thunderstorm—heavy rain, lightning, wind for half the night, air nearly sexually charged.
Meanwhile, the next morning I mourned the suddenly summery world, where the deep kelly greens of summer abruptly replaced most of the neon lime greens of spring. More conspicuously, all the delicate spring flowers had been pounded from the trees. Post-thunderstorm, the branches of ornamental cherry trees were suddenly bare, piles of pink-white petals heaped on the ground.
PollenPollenPOLLEN! Jan Brady perfectly expresses my weariness. Witnessing the annual whining routine from pre-pollen through mid-spring reminds me how out of the present one can become. The only thing more ridiculous than the pollen count is the degree to which people complain about it. And the timing of the same month as Earth Day only adds irony to the complaints.
Even more ironically, people complain for only a few weeks about “bad” air—air that is both temporary and natural. Whereas they live in a heavily polluted city—”normal” air that is both permanent and unnatural. I was a bike commuter in Atlanta for a few years, and still ride my bike short distances nearly every day. Pollen, for a few weeks in spring, has never bothered me as much as exhaust and smog, which I encounter all year.
I choose not to hate on pollen. The brief presence of tree-generated dust that makes me sneeze doesn’t bother me nearly as much as constant air pollution that frequently appears as black smut in a tissue after I blow my nose. In fact, I would accept a season of pollen—multiple months—to air that generally burns my breathing passages while I ride my bicycle. From my perspective, people often miss the smog for the spring.
Pollen helps generate life; I don’t mind the abundant bursts of flowers amidst the green haze. Pollen’s season is one phase of the plant kingdom’s lusty and dusty time of reproduction. Nature’s orgasm, so to speak. Might as well surrender.
∞ Thanks to Michael Saunders for his humor and photos.
SK © 2013