Breath of Fresh Air

Sudden strong winds changed the character of this large lake.  White caps appeared in a matter of moments.  The choppy waves seemed to be moving in several different directions indicating unusual wind patterns that made the lake surface behave like the sloshing water inside of a washing machine.  Smitty steered the small, open watercraft at an angle to the majority of the waves in order to avoid swamping the boat.  Our lake side cabin was only two miles away and so we decided to head straight for home in the rough waters.  Jeff, who normally mans the bow and works the ropes on the end of the boat moved back to the middle of the boat with me.  He was no longer blocking the splash coming over the bow of the boat as we danced through the white caps.

“I thought I’d share the moment with you, did you bring your shower cap?” he said as he moved into  his share of the bench seat in the middle of the boat.

“Thanks!” was all I said as I took my first large splash of water in the face.  Jeff looked back at Smitty and laughed.  The Marine, a nickname given to Smitty after a four year stint with the elite group, thought it was pretty funny also and cackled out loud.

Smitty artfully angled the boat to combat the wind as we closed in to the short dock in front of our cabin.  We landed safely, and I tied us off to the dock as Smiity and Jeff gathered up essential gear for the dash through now torrential rains to the porch of the cabin.  It looked like a short term affair and we decided there was no need to beach the boat and take off the outboard motor.  We would bail it out before we went out fishing again.

From the warmth of the cabin we stared out the window at the stormy waters that lapped up against the sandy beach.  As storms do in this part of northern Quebec, it had come suddenly and without warning.  I have never been anywhere that had storms come and go so quickly as in this boreal region.  It is feasible to go from a bright, quiet sunny day to a horrendous down pour with gale force winds in less than half an hour.  One might say it is part of the beauty of this wilderness.  Perhaps some would see this type of unpredictable weather as a character flaw whereas from my perspective it just adds to the mystery of these wild places.

A drink in hand to warm his spirit, Smitty commented that we might want to settle in.  It looked like the storm was going to hunker down and stay with us for a while.  Only a moment after this thought had been put into words we could see rays of light on the western horizon.  The bands of light were expanding, a good indication that their might be more fishing that day.

As the sky brightened the strong winds calmed.  Within fifteen minutes of Smitty’s observation the wind had calmed to the point where no white caps were visible-only small waves that would not keep a child out of this beautiful lake.

The water at the shoreline was covered with yellow pollen in almost frightening amounts. Layers of yellow, brown, and golden colors sat on the water resembling the rings in the wood of a freshly sawn tree.  It seemed that all of the pollen floating on the water had collected in this shallow cove.  Wind likes to collect things and redistribute them.  Pollen is no exception to this rule.

Wind pollination is part of the reproduction process for many trees.  Pollen is comprised of  tiny fragments of male reproductive parts encapsulated inside a semi-hard sheath.  They are released and spread by the bajillions and find there way to nearby female reproductive ovaries by wind dispersal.  It is really very random.  When the pollen carrying the male reproductive parts happens to land on a female reproductive part of the same species it can produce a seed, that will in turn be dispersed by gravity, wind, or animal to produce a new plant of the same species.  Given that trees (and many other plants) are well rooted and can’t get around to locate a mate, their reproductive parts have to do the work for them. This is truly another miracle of nature.

Wind pollination is successful, and therefore more likely to occur, in open landscapes.  Many field herbs use wind pollination to multiply.  Trees that grow in dense forests do not seem like a good candidate for this method of reproduction, but up high in the canopy where the male and female reproductive parts are produced there is plenty of open space between the tree tops.  Conifers like pine, spruce, and hemlock use wind pollination as do many broad leaved deciduous trees like aspens, ashes, birch, maples, and oak.

It is the vast amount of pollen produced by trees and other plants that causes allergies in animals, particularly humans.  These nearly microscopic plant parts travel in the air and are easily brought into our body when we breathe.  An allergic reaction to these foreign bodies occurs when our bodies think they are being invaded and in response sends out the troops to defeat the intruder.  Our bodies are literally over responding to a foreign stimulus.  About 40% of the U.S. population has pollen related allergic reactions, most are reacting to wind born pollens.

Of course, another effective method of plant procreation is to utilize animals to move the pollen around to fertilize the female reproductive parts.  We are all familiar with the wonderful job that bees do in this regard, but butterflies, moths, flies, and even bats perform this function as well.  Plants that require this method of pollen transfer occur in nearly all climates and ecosystems.  This is a natural codependence between these plants and animals that symbolizes the cooperation so evident in the natural world.  Basswood, black cherry trees, willows, and horse chestnuts are examples of trees that use animals to spread their pollen.

The fact that we have different methods of pollination, often within the same ecosystem, reduces the chances for over competition between plant species, allowing for successful reproduction in a variety of environments.

I walked out to the water’s edge to look at the mat of yellow pollen floating at the lakes edge.  The overhead sky was blue and full of the sun’s rays. Each wave ripple made the yellow mass quake giving the pollen a life-like movement.  As I stood there Jeff wandered out with a beverage to share with me.

“Pretty to look at!” he said not expecting a response.

Before I could answer I let out a gigantic series of sneezes.

“Evidently it is one of those things, like poison ivy, that should be admired from a distance” , I finally responded holding my nose trying to prevent the next wave of allergic intrusion. And then a second pulse of earth shaking sneezes began all over again.

“Evidently!” responded Jeff while cleaning the remnants of my sneezes off his Polartec vest.

Nothing is perfect in the natural world.

Written for in May of 2010.

  • Ratty

    It seems the chances of wind pollination working is very slim because of the randomness of it all, until we take into account the vast amounts of pollen flying around in the air. Thanks, this was very informative. And of course, your usual excellent storytelling.

  • Morgan Parker

    i love the smell of fresh air in the morning. it is so rejuvenation.,:”

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