Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Stroll...

Winter is almost past, but in some ways it feels like it's just setting in. I felt the need for a stroll , so I took a walk up to the corner. The temperatures were in the upper '60s, but the wind that has been present for several days had whipped a slight chill into the air. It was really lovely walking weather. Slightly overcast (we're supposed to get a few showers overnight into tomorrow).

Small blades of green were knifing up here and there through the thick carpet of muted browns and beige's covering the ground. Spring is clearly making it's approach known, but the effects of winter still rule. For the time being, anyway. There were several trees near the transformer station that I pass on my way to the condo entrance that were yielding red leaves. It felt like they were offering up remembrances of my favorite season, Autumn. Although there are many trees that stay relatively green throughout the seasons, there are still quite a few that drop their leaves to stand gangly and naked until Spring returns. I looked up into a morass of the stripped limbs, and noticed a collection of twigs and moss at the top of a tree. Not sure of the residents, but most likely birds of some kind. The only other ornaments were some sparse groupings of Spanish Moss. They reminded me of dingy haphazardly tossed tree tinsel. As I looked up at the stark branches, I appreciated the abstractness of it all. Like an intricately done line drawing. Before much longer the trees would be covered with leaves, and the intricate design would be gone. Until next year.

There is one particular tree that I always visit on my walks that is covered with moss. It's beautiful during it's leafy time of the year, but I really love how it looks in winter. When it drops it's leaves, the moss looks all the more full and dominant. The Spanish Moss is one of the things I really love about Savannah. It makes me think of history. It makes me think of Gothic ghost stories, and vampires. It makes me think of mysticism. The mood here in Savannah is exhilarating, and I definitely count the 'Moss' as a cause.

I've had people ask me why the moss is here. How did it get here? Did some Spaniards bring it over from Spain some how? If not them, who brought it and when? Why have they only seen it here? I decided to do some research. Figured that since I live in Savannah, it would be nice to be able to answer the questions when asked.

The truth is, it's not even a "moss" or a lichen. It is an 'epiphytic' plant, which means it grows on the surface of other plants. An angiosperm that is part of the bromeliad family, it is referred to as an "air plant" as it gets its nutrients from the air and rain. It flourishes here in the south because of the humidity, and can be found in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, eastern North Carolina, southeastern Virginia, South Carolina, Texas, and Alabama.

No one brought it here, and it's indigenous to the American South. Here's how it got it's name:

When the French first arrived in Louisiana, they asked the Indians about the strange hair-like plant growing on the trees. The Indians said that it was 'Tree hair'. The French said that it reminded them of the long black beards of the Spanish explorers who came before them, and a better name was 'Spanish beard'. It didn't take long for this name to be seen as ridiculous, so it was changed to 'Spanish moss'. (That's the "Reader's Digest" version.)

I've often fought the urge to harvest some of the 'moss' for decorative purposes, as it's commonly known to be full of chiggers. Chiggers are tiny mites that are pretty much invisible to the naked eye. They bit and produce itchy red welts. I've had the bites, and they are not fun. For some reason a lot of people believe that chiggers burrow under the skin, and that brushing clear nail polish over the resulting bump will suffocate them. That's what I was always told when I was young. The welts can get rather big, so it had seemed plausible. Kind of glad that they bite as opposed to digging holes in ones skin. Rather creepy thought. I have found instructions online about how to kill the chiggers on moss using a pesticide that doesn't harm the plant itself. Before hand you have to dress in clothing just short of a 'Haz-mat' suit. I'll give it a go at some point.

I always feel invigorated after a walk around the homestead here. So peaceful. So relaxing, and centering. I've been rather preoccupied with several things lately. The walk was very welcome. Think I'll go on another one tomorrow.


  1. Very interesting about the Spanish moss! I love the way it looks. I didn't know the origin of the name, or that it's full of chiggers. That may not be 100% true because I remember bringing some home once from a trip to Savannah and not getting chigger bites from it. I always heard that too, about covering chigger bites with nail polish, although I never actually tried that.

  2. Wonderfully atmospheric - and full of fascinating details too. You write so well, which is another reason I always enjoy visiting this blog.

  3. Thanks, Deborah. I take that as a high compliment as you are a wonderful writer.

    @ Nancy: Huh...maybe it was the time of year you harvested the moss? My first Autumn in Savannah a couple of years ago, I took some from a tree down the marsh bank from me. The next morning I had red chigger bites on both of my arms. I can't remember ever itching like that. As for the polish, I have never tried it either. Once I learned that they bite rather than burrow, the idea of brushing the welts with polish didn't seem like a very good idea.