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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Just What Is All of This White Stuff?

It's white, it swirls around in the air, it covers Moscow and, in a certain light, it can even look pretty. But it is not snow. You can tell that because when it blows into your apartment it does not melt. Instead, it sits there, insinuating itself into every corner crevice and recess of your home, defying all but the most state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner for weeks on end. It is pukh and it comes from the poplar tree. It blizzards down at this time of year because, when they planted the things, they were so keen to get some greenery in the ground that no one gave any thought to balancing the sexes. Moscow has far more female poplars than male ones. So nature does not run its usual happy course and the frustrated trees send a surfeit of their unfertilized seeds drifting thickly through the air. One should feel sympathy for these trees that can't even have a decent sex life. As inconveniences go, this is one of the milder Moscow misfortunes. No one has ever died from it, no one's health has even been permanently impaired by it and neither has it ever been responsible, as far as we know, for any crazy new taxes, bombings, hijackings or high prices. It is even probably a good thing, offering something different to moan about for a few weeks. However, what amazes us is that no one here has yet found a commercial use for it. In a city where you can regularly see babushkas harvesting what looks to be common-or-garden grass on every piece of wasteground, no one has yet found a way for pukh to be eaten, woven, threaded, worn or somehow reconstituted into something that can be sold. Pukh, when dry, is highly flammable, so maybe some enterprising soul can make firelighters out of them. Here, surely, is a test for Russian ingenuity. To meet it, we suggest that what this city needs is a pukh committee -- an assembly of the finest botanical and business brains gathering to collect ideas, test them and, ultimately, market them. Perhaps here is the brave new world this country has been searching for. Pukh could become to Russia what oil is to Kuwait, or bananas are to the Dominican Republic. We see a sudden flowering of blueprints, men in white coats pouring over test tubes and exclaiming "Eureka!" and then launching on an unsuspecting world a whole range of pukh products. There could even be a five-year-plan for production. If there was, we are sure of one thing. Judging by the fecundity of Moscow's female poplars, it would be fulfilled in three.