Current Essays

Martyrium Arboretum On:2007-03-22 04:47:55

Well here we are once again back at that time of year when all I can think to essay about is pollen: all I can write about is pollen; all I can speak about is pollen; all I can even think about is [Atishoo! Atishoo! --- Atishoo!] bloody pollen.
As I think I’ve told you before, I am a martyr to the sex life of trees.

Not, as I’m absolutely certain that I’ve told you before , that I really blame the poor buggers. I mean there you are, a randy young guy tree and over there in that coppice across the street is a group of giggling (and, as it turns out, rather attractive) lady trees, so you think (in your tree-like way):
“Hey! Let’s saunter across the street and try out the old ‘Hey-y! How you doin’?’ and see where, or possibly what, it gets me. So it’s up roots and at ‘em!---it’s up roots---it’s up roots... it--it’s up... it’s... Oh! Sod it!!”
And there you have it! And as a direct consequence of the tree’s inability to uproot itself and consummate its lust I, not to mention a considerable cross-section of the general population, must suffer, and gaze at the world through caked, blood-crazed eyes and an antihistamine fog, that makes the sixties look like step twelve of a really successful rehab programme, for the next (what seems like) four million months.

Of course being me, the only thing on my mind to think, speak, write or even essay about doesn’t stay the only thing on my mind for long; and when, the other day (which happened to be the Thursday before the 17th March), I went down to get my lunch, the sight of the serving ladies wearing green hat-like things festooned with shamrocks AND large and fluffy green leis festooned with flowers in apparent honour of St Patrick 1 the patron saint of Hawaii put everything else in the entire Universe completely out of mind.
It’s silly, but do you know, before this I hadn’t realised that St Patrick was Hawaiian, though, now that that one vital fact has been made clear, it does at last at least partly explain why sheleighly rhymes with ukulele, not to mention that otherwise totally inexplicable order of Hula nuns near Dublin and of course the Hawaiians’ penchant for pork with their pineapple. But I should get back to my pollen before this essay turns into a re-make of the last part of ‘Joe Versus the Volcano ’.

Pollen is of course an insidious enemy, insinuating itself into cracks and crevices both on and off the body and, to make things worse, an enemy that is completely invisible---well invisible apart from that yellow sheen (or really it’s more of a thick yellow shell) that it gives to my dark blue Regal; a sheen (or shell) that blends so seductively with the streakier results of my assigned parking spot being directly beneath the tree that is the birds’ main comfort station for the entire county. And do you know, on not terribly close examination of my car, it appears that many of these birds are in fact eagles, or perhaps giant condors ... or even emus. I’m thinking of calling the Audibon Society about it, or on second thoughts I’ll cut out the middle man and turn straight to the NRA. But I should get back to my pollen before this essay turns into a re-make of all of Hichcock’s ‘The Birds ’.

Science2 suggests that much of our susceptibility to allergens like pollen is our own fault---particularly the fault of you Americans and your overwhelming desire to kill 99.9% of household germs. (Why 99.9% is a mystery I should look into some time---I mean it only takes that remaining 0.1% of household germs a few hours to replenish their numbers with stronger and meaner germs--- and germs, moreover, that now have a grudge against us). Yes, it’s our (and particularly your) obsession with cleanliness that dooms us to seasons of sniffs and mellow wooziness. Do you know that, because of this our immune systems have so little to do that, it seems, they just get bored and disaffected and so eventually go for the throat (not to mention the nose, eyes and occasionally ears) of the nearest body---which in my case happens to be mine!
But I should get back to my pollen induced suffering and end this essay before it turns into a re-make of 'Fantastic Voyage '. Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


1 "... honour of St Patrick" Whose day either just passed or passed so long ago that you wonder why I bring it up now depending on the length of the delay before this is broadcast

2 A scientist (if not Science herself) replies:

Hi Richard,
It's always a bit unsettling to find empirical justification for the ideas your essays advance, but once again, you may be right - at least kind of in a hypothetical sense, perhaps.
Some immunologists argue that parents can be overly-zealous by depriving their offspring of "normal" exposure to routine elements of the environment, through under-exposure to dirt, animals, plants and people, and through over-exposure to strong, germicidal cleansers. This can result in a somewhat naive immune system that has not experienced enough of the real biological world to be able to discriminate between legitimate threats (e.g. pathogenic bacteria, viruses and molds) which warrant an immune response, and other substances which are better ignored (e.g. pollen, dust, wool). In the case of allergies, the immune system responds to harmless constructs such as pollen or cat dander as though it were a lethal invader, perhaps because the immune system was never allowed to see enough of either during its formative years, and thus learn that allergens are to be tolerated rather than trounced.
There is an entire second level of allergy based on three-dimensional molecular shapes of allergens and one's own histocompatibility antigens, which may account for why some immune systems overreact to allergens, but would also defeat [your point], which I believe is to tilt at nurture, not nature.
M J Temple O. Carm., Ph.D.


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