Pollen vs Covid

A welcome reflection on lockdown and the perspective gifted by palynology, penned by Dael Sassoon.

Mauritia, Mauritia, Alchornea, Cecropia, Mauritia, Poaceae… and so the list continues until all the 500 pollen grains are safely stored in my excel spreadsheet, one sample after the other. Soon the spreadsheet turns into a precious database reflecting changes in species abundance over thousands of years. Each column is a different point in time, each row is a different species that grew at that moment. Scrolling through the long document produced over weeks of hard work suddenly feels like scrolling through history. As I count away, identifying pollen grain after pollen grain and adding ecological information to my spreadsheet, the words of Paulo Coelho emanating from the audiobook of The Alchemist echo in my mind: “And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.” The pandemic has changed many of our plans this year and it has forced us to stay home and find new ways of working, as well as finding new modes of entertainment and socialising. For me, it meant I couldn’t go on my second fieldtrip to Peru or go back to Italy to see my family and friends as much as I wished for. However, it also meant I had time to read more, draw more, walk more. While I look through my slides, I think about all the changes that the world has gone through in the past and that have led to where we are now. Our ancestors living a couple thousands of years ago didn’t have all the knowledge about viruses or environmental change that we have now, and yet they managed to survive even the worse moments in history when war raged across continents and environmental disasters tore down civilisations. Somehow, both humanity and nature are always able to rise from the ashes and bring balance back into life, carrying along new art, new cultures, new lifestyles, new technological advances. No matter what happens to the world, pollen keeps appearing in my samples, making me realise that time will keep going by and that we will go along with it. Soon, COVID-19 will be a thing of the past and we will enjoy every moment given to us like a gift long desired. Soon, we’ll be able to go back to the field, see our family and friends, or go to a shop without having to panic that we forget our mask. So, I keep counting, looking through time, and forget about the strange world outside, and only move forward.

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