The day I drew my first house plans in Spanish moss, I knew I’d discovered the ideal building material.
Moss is adjustable. Hold a soft gray skein in both hands and gently pull, and the tendrils unlock their grip and double or triple in length.
The trees on my grandmother’s farm had been hosting moss-life so long that even a five-year-old could reach it. I robbed the dogwoods and, like a spinner of thread, fed their moss through my hands, laying out playrooms and bedrooms and ballrooms. Spanish moss proved ideally suited to architectural indecision. I could rearrange my houses on a whim. My rule of scale was simple: A room was big enough once I could lie down in it—or until guests arrived. Party of four? Knocking out walls was a gesture of hospitality.
All of my houses were one-dimensional until I discovered the charm of standing walls. This happy experiment involved a pile of old tobacco sticks, used mainly for sword-fighting and bridge-building.
More than a yard long and still smelling of cured tobacco, the sticks made excellent load-bearing wall studs. I jammed them into the ground at wide intervals, linked the tops with twine, and scoured the farm for moss to drape over the string.
Wafting walls! The effect was striking. I lay back on the grass and admired my newly framed view of the clouds. My solar-powered HVAC system was working just fine. I knew I was green. Ambitiously, I got up to add fences and it was probably at this point that my mother intervened, pointing out that I was covered in red bug bites.
Years later, my husband and I built a house of fiber cement board and drywall and shingles. We’d drawn our own plans. We’d had them professionally engineered. But for a while, I drove our excellent builder mad.
Our builder admires a client who knows what she wants. Such a client selects her floor plan, delivers it up to be constructed and changes her mind only about paint colors. But I had been trained in the Spanish Moss School of Design, and I was far more “various.”
We reconfigured the kitchen three times, a bathroom twice. A month into construction, I suggested solving a roofline issue by simply shifting the garage eight feet to the left. This helpful proposal involved surveyors, draftsmen, engineers, permits, excavators and maybe a cardiologist.
I was always adding windows. Nice deep ones. They were a throwback to my days of unobstructed views. Just gaps in the moss. Finally, my builder informed me with utter sincerity that if he cut one more hole in that house, the whole blasted thing was going to fall down.
Well, I knew when to quit. Even moss reaches a point when its tensile strength is exhausted. You might weave those thin gray fingers back together, but their wind load capacity is shot.
Vacillating as I had been about the house, I knew exactly what I wanted in the yard. A former neighbor, who was moss-rich, graciously allowed me to borrow some of hers. Five years later, we moved closer to family and repeated the whole process.
So far, I have met with no success. Moss transplants have a grievously high rejection rate. But let me put future generations of my family on notice: In our very own yard, there are now tiny strands of moss clinging to a volunteer magnolia, a pine tree, and— inexplicably—the gutter on the back porch. If we leave these mossy visitors to their own devices, one day my grandchildren may learn how to build a proper house.
Margaret Locklair began her freelancing career at an early age, perched in the limbs of a large mimosa tree. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.