Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Ill Wind Blows This Spring

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
- Bob Dylan

Apparently, the answer would be pollen. At least that's all I see blowing in the Central Texas wind, which lately never ceases. I'll wake up at night and glance out the second-story bedroom window, on the miniscule chance that it might actually be raining. What a quaint notion, April showers. There will be no raindrops lashing the windows, but the treetops sway as if dancing to an celestial salsa band. Night and day they swing, shaking off oak pollen by the wheelbarrow load in the yard.

This is my first spring living in Central Texas in nearly 30 years. I have spent virtually all the past three decades in Deep East Texas, where pine trees dominate. Spring in those parts means a fine coating of yellow powder on every outdoor surface. One quickly learns to give up washing the car for a month or so, to never leave a vehicle's window open - and never, ever raise the windows of one's home. That is, unless, one enjoys a patina of golden dust on every surface.

Most years a gullywasher will sweep through those piney woods, washing yellow rivers of pine pollen down gutters and into the storm system. A good thunderstorm might leave some branches to pick up - pine trees being rather brittle - but at least the pollen would disappear. All would once again be bright and clean.

Fortunately, I developed an immunity to pine pollen as a callow youth growing up in the land of virgin pines and tall women. Or maybe it was the reverse. Sorry, old East Texas joke. The season was aesthetically annoying but didn't cause me sneezing fits, watery eyes or a runny nose. I did not suffer as so many do, until arriving here in the land of cedar, live oaks and prickly pear. I discovered a few months after moving here that cedar fever is indeed as foul a malady as others have described it. It took me a while to figure out that I didn't have a common cold, that the winter pollen from cedars was kicking my behind.

Considering I live in Cedar Park, and my back yard contains five trees of that species, one would have thought this diagnosis might have occurred to me earlier - but no matter. I loaded up on over-the-counter drugs and hobbled through, taking comfort in learning that cedar fever ends at springtime.

Then oak pollen season arrived. I honestly had no idea such existed. I lived in Austin during my last stint here, attending graduate school at The University starting in 1980 - a year marked by a Gil Scott-Heron song titled the same, which we played incessantly. Maybe the grackles distracted me. Or oaks were scarce in the yards of the cheap houses we rented, trying to elude burglars who seemed to follow us. Seriously. We were burglarized twice in two years and narrowly escaped a third attempt. That's enough to distract one from pollen. Now I seem to have more time on my hands and have noticed a yellow coating on everything outside.

And inside, at least briefly. I revel in fresh air and open windows when possible. As the cool spring air (which lasted about a week) arrived, I flung open second-story windows. (I learned my lesson about leaving first-story windows open). An hour's worth of vacuuming and dusting after work coupled with a grand mal sneezing attack convinced me there is a reason God invented air-conditioning and ceiling fans.

Finally the pollen is beginning to abate, but the wind shows no sign of settling down. The paper had a booth at the Cedar Park Heritage Festival recently, which I manned on a Saturday afternoon. I spent a half-day getting ready, mounting photographs on a tri-fold display board, gathering bound copies of old papers for folks to peruse, ordering a new banner.

The wind howled across that park, tossing canopies about. Luckily, we were under an industrial-strength cover installed by city workers who pounded rebar into the rocky soil. I would likely still be trying to hang our banner if not for the help of a kindly volunteer with the Austin Steam Train Association. I had to abandon the notion of displaying photographs on the display, some of which would have ended up north of Leander before sunset. Instead, I settled for only showing the bound books, the pages of which had to be carefully turned in the wind.

But I met lots of nice folks, who mainly remarked on the wind. One person noted that we would be missing these gales come August.

Well, there's that.

Originally published in the Hill Country News (Cedar Park, Texas), April 14, 2011.

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