Down here, this time of the year, one thing is always in abundance: tree pollen, that bright yellow dust that covers everything.
It comes from pine trees, oaks, and birches — and maybe a few other trees I don’t know of. But I do know this: At a certain time each year — usually in late March or early April — it falls all over us. One day, suddenly, you’ll just walk out to your car and find it completely dusted with yellow. Running it through the car wash is a futile exercise until pollen season ends, usually in late May. You just have to keep your windshield washer’s reservoir full and give the glass a spray every time you get in the car. If it rains, pollen skims over all the puddles left behind. I’ve seen friends post videos on social media of creeks near their homes, with bright gatherings of pollen shifting with the flow of the water. This morning, I had coffee with my priest on his front porch and noticed the metal arms of the porch furniture were clean where folks’ arms had been. But back when the arms met the cushions, nothing but pollen.
You cannot escape the stuff. But there is fun to be found in pollen season.
One of my favorite pollen-season pastimes is to see how local television stations and newspapers struggle for novel ways to describe the yellow stuff.
“The Entire Upstate Is Under a Sheet of Yellow Pollen,” writes WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“Cloud of Yellow Pollen Blows Off Falling NC Tree,” writes the News & Observer’s website in Raleigh, North Carolina. And of course, it comes with a video.
(When the video finishes, hit the pause button so you can watch the one below.)
There are also the attempts to create entirely new words to describe pollen. Two tortured examples I love are “pollengeddon” and “pollenpocalypse.”
You can also count on social media folks to create memes about pollen in the South. The predominant one seems to be “It doesn’t snow in the South. It pollens.”
Browsing the web in search of pollen info yields lots of useful information, including the fact that, if you are not allergic to pine pollen, you can eat it. Evidently, it’s filled with protein and vitamin B. I learned this on the YouTube page called “Nature Now!” It’s run by a food forager named Chris Egnoto, and has a 20,000 subscribers, so I expect it’s reasonably credible. Mr. Egnoto actually claims you can eat the stuff. Watch him in action below.
Personally, I don’t think I’ll be eating much pollen this spring or in any spring to come. But if I were to, I think I would follow a different path, the Yellow Corn Pollen Path, a ritual that’s part of Navajo culture. In this ritual, you take a pinch of corn pollen between your thumb and index finger. First, you drop a bit of the pollen onto the top of your head. Second, you put a bit onto your tongue. Third, you scatter whatever pollen is left between your fingers toward the east. Then, you pray this prayer.
“Let there be joy, happiness, competence, and peace before me. Let there be joy, happiness, competence, and peace behind me. Let there be joy, happiness, competence, and peace above me. Let there be joy, happiness, competence, and peace below me. Let there be joy, happiness, competence, and peace all around me.”
Maybe, in Southern springtimes, we spend too much time thinking ill of pollen. Yes, it makes many of us sneeze. But I love the idea that inside the yellow stuff, there is a prayer worth praying.