We all should know better than to think we’ve seen everything, but I confess sometimes I begin to feel that way. Spring of 2008 in central Oregon is one example. The landscape there is expansive like ours in the Mojave, yet very different. To the west lie a string of 10-K volcanoes snow capped all year, and to the east, high stony desert. In between, the Deschutes River valley is a carpet of vivid green from aloft, billions of ponderosa pines so uniform they look like a thousand square miles of newly mown grass. Grass a hundred feet high.
Down beneath that canopy an open air cathedral, sweetly shaded, disappears beyond sight in every direction. In spring, soft clouds of pollen drift from boughs at the slightest puff, wafting everywhere the full bouquet of God’s own candle shop. Downright heavenly unless folks have allergies; for them it’s just a gorgeous version of hell with extra mosquitoes. Hatchoo.
There’s also a tantalizing visual effect you’ll never see anywhere round here. Early in the day before thermals are soarable, thousands of baby sized pollen devils, bright yellow instead of brown, rise all across the forest. Their multitude does not mean more or better lift, it’s evidence of incipient convection with the strength to raise only pollen, not dust. Gliding over them low, you feel nothing. I proved this, to considerable dismay, more than once.
Real dust devils are totally different. Typically miles apart or in furious clusters at the base of a shear line, they occur mostly during the hottest hours of the day. Dust is comprised of superfine rocks, relatively heavy stuff that requires great energy to be carried high aloft. Pollen is nearly weightless, designed to float in the slightest movement of air. Once above the trees, this super light particulate disperses so rapidly, a dense pollen haze develops below 2000 AGL at the onset of a thermal day. That low-level obscuration is not dense enough to greatly diminish sunlight reaching the surface, but neither does it help.
At the end of one sneezy week, a heavy thunderstorm washed unnumbered tons of pollen from the air and trees and everywhere else it had fallen, all together onto the ground. By dark that evening cars looked as if kids had Halloweened them, and for several days afterward, low spots that collected rainwater held puddles of bright yellow paint. Ah, so much for allergies!
But the mosquitoes? They just fed on that like they feed on everything. Price of doing business.