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The Legendary Spanish Moss

My good friend, Michelle of Applie Juice (appliejuice.com), asked us (her faithful readers) to photograph and post about a hike/walk/trot/gallop that we went on. No prob. Why? Because not only are we agreeable folks but simple living means that you do a lot of walking. Here are photos from our recent trip to pick up Spanish moss for our garden. Fitness gurus may not agree, but I call it a productive walk.

Spanish moss is truly terrific stuff once it is aged. In the South, Spanish moss filled the most expensive settees and mattresses (the ones that hosted the wealthiest back ends). Spanish moss also found its way into mud clay as a binder and was used to build houses. Why? Because it lasts forever.

A legend describes how Spanish moss became so common in our region. According to the legend, an Indian brave and princess lived on the banks of the bayou. When the princess died, she was buried at the base of a live oak tree. The grieving brave hung her long black braids on the tree limb to mark her grave. With time, the braids turned gray and the wind carried the strands from tree to tree. All the trees weep to this day – all the way to the Gulf.

We use it to sweeten our compost and also in the bottom of our herb boxes. Seeing it in blackened clumps or bales (as it is sold commercially), we quickly forget its beauty, history, and grace. Perhaps that is why it is such a joy to collect — the price is right **cue the theme music** and the walk is so visually appealing. I love to see it draped in such perfect (and effortless) arcs or blowing in the warm Georgian breeze.

And my favorite legend: A Spanish soldier fell in love at first sight with an Indian chief’s favorite daughter. Though the chieftain forbade the couple to see each other, the Spaniard was too lovestruck to stop meeting the maiden in secret. The father found them out and ordered his braves to tie the Spaniard high up in the top of an ancient oak tree.

The Spaniard had only to disavow his love to be freed, but he steadfastly refused. Guards were posted to keep anyone — the chief’s daughter above all — from giving food or water to the poor Spaniard. The Spaniard grew weaker and weaker, but he still would not renounce his love for the girl. Near the end, the Chief tried to persuade him once more to stay away from his daughter. The Spaniard answered that not only would he refuse to disavow his love, but that his love would continue to grow even after death. When at last the Spaniard died, the chief kept the body tied up in the tree as a warning to any other would-be suitors.
Before long, the Indians began to notice that the Spaniard’s beard continued to grow. The Indian maiden refused ever to take a husband — unless the Spaniard’s beard died and vanished from the tree. As the years went by, the beard only grew stronger and longer, covering trees far from the Indian maiden’s village. Legend says that when the Spanish moss is gone, the Spaniard’s love will have finally died with it.

The fragrance of the moss, mingling with scent of jasmine, gardenia, magnolia, and wisteria defines the Lowcountry spring and summer. Were it not for Spanish moss, we would not have the sorrowful Southern romance that inspires writers and artists the world over. And as we walk beneath the trees to fill our buckets with the soft gray curls of moss, I like to imagine the skirts of the Southern belles sweeping along the very same path to meet with their secret loves or the scratch of the pen as Faulkner, Williams, and Mitchell wrote the words that captured the very essence of this place. The history, the romance, and the legends…

Spanish Moss“All I can say is that there’s a sweetness here, a Southern sweetness, that makes sweet music… If I had to tell somebody who had never been to the South, who had never heard of soul music, what it was, I’d just have to tell him that it’s music from the heart, from the pulse, from the innermost feeling. That’s my soul; that’s how I sing. And that’s the South.” — Al Green

Click on any of the pictures to enlarge.

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