The Gift of Pollen

Reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal: Two weeks of windy dry weather have passed, warm breezes wisping the fields of first-cut hay. But heavy thunder-showers have fallen this warm afternoon, the first day of June. It looks to be an electric night coming on--hot sky-fires flashing the dark walls---trees sighing the long cool music of rain. Good sleeping weather. For now the storms have moved on, grumbling around those high dark domes we call the Great Craggy Mountains.

Into a dripping thundery dusk, I walk outside. A few first fireflies are blinking the twilight fields. The warm air breathes sweet with honeysuckle. Each black rain puddle is edged with a molten trace of yellow pollen, washed from blossoming trees. The air itself is cleansed with rain. All the pines, several species of oaks, hickories, walnuts and other hardwoods are spreading literal clouds of flower-dust, these days of the natural year when trees must make their seeds.

From this secret union multiplied a billion-fold come acorns, apples, hickory nuts, pine cones, dogwood berries and the winged seeds and fruit of all trees. And so it is for grasses, weeds, flowers, berry plants, vines and garden vegetables, many of them pollinated by insects, as well as by wind. The flowering earth is creatively designed for male and female to find each other, to remake their kind. So life on this lush green pollinated planet continues year to year, bearing a nutritious abundance of sweet ripening fruits, nuts and seeds, to feed the animals, wild, and tamed.

Each spring and summer, as this ancient ‘fertility rite’ proceeds and blows itself into fruition, night and day we breathe the warm air rich with the life-dust of plants. Eyes, noses and lungs react, and we gobble literal tons of pharmaceutical anti-histamines to reduce the irritating effects of tons of wind-borne pollen.

Although nearly microscopic, pollen is virtually indestructible. Deep in prehistoric peat bogs archeologists find deposits of tree pollen, still identifiable by species, telling us which trees were growing in ancient human cultures thousands of years ago. Yet to date, no traces of Zirtec, Allegra, or Claritin have been identified. Over centuries, native peoples had learned which plants were “good medicine”---potent natural antihistamines. And they understood the miraculous life-gift of pollen.