Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Scotch Moss

I've been out raking our lawn, and I see that the moss is back.

Two years ago, I made a point of getting rid of it. I won't use moss killer; my strategy is to use brute force, repeating this as often as possible until the weeds or moss or whatever green thing I'm pitting myself against is finally forced to give up. Of course, most green things never do give up; usually I am what gives up -- and out. Still, two years ago, I went out there armed with rake and intent, and I expended great energy. I went over every square centimeter of our little patch of grass out in front (our garden is, weirdly enough, divided into several different segments), and I raked out every single smidgen of moss until hardly any was left. In fact, after I did this, hardly anything was left: our lawn, I quickly learned, was over 75% moss. For the next several weeks, I stared out at the great brown patches and it just looked awful. Finally, I went out and dug up as much of the bare naked ground as I could, then I reseeded it. The robins were thrilled: I'd made their worm-finding a lot easier. The cat was thrilled too: more robins to try and catch, plus a whole new toilet space had been created for her.

I stuck bamboo poles here and there to keep the cat out; she sashayed right past them. My only consolation was that she did manage to scare away some of the £$&%*@ing birds that ate up half of my seed. The grass, when it grew in, was a pitiful thing. The moss, when it grew back in, was strong and vigorous.

I'm not sure when it clicked, but at some point it did: Moss is my friend. Not only is it wonderful, springy stuff that is pleasant to walk on, but it is pretty: you can only tell that it isn't grass when you accidentally rake some of it up with your autumn leaves, especially if your vision doesn't happen to be 100% anymore, which mine certainly isn't. It offers a comfortable padding for those with arthritic joints, myself included, and is a natural thing that costs you nothing. Perfect, really.

It is also something that I longed for as a child. When did I forget that?

When I was nine years old, I went with my father and sisters to the local county fair. Usually, I found county fairs tiresome events with boring displays, too many people, and far too much heat. Invariably my father would get caught up in some riveting conversation about avocadoes, citrus grafting and irrigation techniques, and I would stand there in the sun bored out of my mind, but on this occasion I was fascinated by a display of lawn turfs and groundcovers. There were little patches of individual turfs with labels explaining what they were and how they should be cared for. My absolute favorite was something called Scotch moss. It was a rich, verdant lime green, soft and springy to the touch (speaking of touch, you weren't supposed to, but as soon as the lady's back was turned I stuck out a greedy finger and fairly gasped at the luxuriant texture of it, the delicious coolness).

Please can we get some for our lawn, daddy? Pleeaasse! I whined, as soon as I was able to drag my father away from his fascinating discussion of the merits of different fertilizers and show him the turf and groundcover displays. He and the turf lady smiled indulgently. This one isn't practical for Southern California, the lady told me. You'd have to plant it in a shady area and water it non-stop and it would still probably die. My father echoed her sentiments, but it took him at least twenty minutes to drag me away from the display.

Once home, I stood in front of our house and balefully regarded our front yard, hating the parched, bedraggled look of it. I pictured Scotch moss growing abundantly, a delicious carpet of moist, plush green under my bare feet. What we had instead was grass that had to be watered all the time and still looked pretty pathetic.

Amazing, isn't it? For a while there, with a whole garden of the stuff I was raking it up like nobody's business.

Catch me ever doing that again.


Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

We agree. I love moss. I miss it. Only an exceedingly damp place indeed can support that much moss. My husbabd thinks its hilarious that in Scotland there is barel a square inch not covered in lichen or moss or something else green adn creeping.

Also if you lie in it, you get a lovely earthy smell. You could fall asleep in the velvety moss in our garden growing up. Sealy Posturepedics doesn't have a look-in for lumbar support.

We have to drive to Northern California to the redwoods to find anything similar. God it's gorgeous up there. You've set me a-longing you have. You and Pat with her green fields and woods pictures. I love long autumn walks at home. With scarves and red noses and crunchy leaves and nippy weather. And macaroni cheese for tea afterwards.

debra said...

Moss is wonderful stuff. When it is dry, moss turns brown. Add a little water and it becomes a beautiful green carpet. We have many kinds of moss in our woods and in front of our house. Enjoy.

-eve- said...

Hmmm... but I thought the thing about moss is that it grows in wet areas, so when you step on it, it feels sticky and cold (unlike dry grass). Moss here is slimy (to my touch, at least...)...:-)

Kim Ayres said...

Lying and falling asleep on moss would be great if you didn't then end up soaking wet, even on the driest days.

Many thanks once again for the soup, the coffee and the blether yesterday. It was a very welcome respite on the drive home from Edinburgh.

The Anti-Wife said...

Moss is in abundance here in Washington state, too. Sometimes it's better not to fight mother nature. I have learned to love instead of cursing dandelions.
Happy Thanksgiving from the U.S.

Brian said...

It's a good thing in its place

It can be beautiful, it can be dangerous -- especally when it grows on stone paths or steps

I'd rather not break a hip from slipping on it .


Mary Witzl said...

Sam -- I've just gotten back from a walk like that, and my toes are completely numb. My scarf managed to cover everything but one square inch of skin, which is most likely frostbitten, and as for my nose, well, just call me Rudolph.

That said, I vastly prefer the climate of Scotland to that of my hometown in Southern California. I think San Francisco is great, but it's pretty close to Scotland in terms of breeziness, if not chilliness, Mark Twain's famous quote notwithstanding. People often assume that I must be miserable here in Scotland, being from California, but I think it's great. Other than occasional yearnings for eucalyptus, sagebrush, and Mexican food, I do just fine here. And I love the rich, velvety texture of moss, and how thrilled I would have been as a kid to see what I have in my garden right now.

Debra -- The moss here never has the chance to turn brown; rain is automatically added to it just about every day! But I agree: it's lovely, and nicer than any carpet I can think of.

Eve -- Moss on pavement surfaces is an entirely different thing, and I generally get rid of that without any compunction. It's all too easy to slip on, and when you do, it's nowhere near thick enough to cushion your fall.

Kim -- Thank YOU for all your help with my blog! Also, thank you for not minding about the scattered laundry drying everywhere, the possible mouse guts in the veranda, and the clutter all over the kitchen. And next time, I'll get the bread started sooner.

Anti-wife -- I have a love-hate relationship with dandelions. Most of the time I just leave them be, though, and I would rather live with a zillion dandelions on my lawn than use glycophosphate to kill them.

Brian -- Moss on paving stones is no joke, and it's not even pretty. In our last house, we had it all over the back porch and it was killer stuff. I sprayed it with a pressure hose and I salted the porch, but it came right back. Finally, I just tossed grit all over the place. It looked like hell, but at least I could walk across the porch without taking my life in my hands.

A Paperback Writer said...

I can think of one advantage: moss does not need mowing.
Of course, in Scotland, it is not necessary to mow lawns every week -- or even twice a week-- like it is in Utah. But still.
I mostly remember moss on lesser used steps and turning cement work pale green in Edinburgh. This amused me, and my fellow Utahns who've never been to Scotland don't really believe me that it happens. Moss doing that in Utah means a water leak somewhere. But, then, Utah, like southern California, is a place where you don't have to reclose the baggies around your crackers because they will NOT get damp when exposed to the air.
One thing that delighted me about the dampness in Scotland was that brown sugar did not turn into a possible weapon once the bag was opened. Here in SLC, brown sugar must either be microwaved before use, or else it must be attacked with a meat mallet. (I frequently just give up and use molasses and white sugar instead. It's easier.) But in Scotland, the brown sugar stays soft. I was so thrilled with this. (My kitchenmates thought I was a bit touched in the head over this.)

Danette Haworth said...

I always liked moss, too. It's the velvet of the forest.

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- I'm weird: I LOVE mowing grass. Because I'm an insomniac, I look for ways to knock myself out. We have an old-fashioned push mower, and I use that like some people use exercise machines in their gyms. Mowing twice a week would be great fun...

The whole notion of moss and surfaces that are never dry is so wholly foreign to anyone from Southern California, particularly my town which was always parched for rain and miserably hot. After my father died, I found some boxes that he had stored in our garage for literally decades. The contents were still perfectly fine, the clothes intact. Had that been in Japan or Scotland, everything would have rotted away.

You probably already know this, but brown sugar is a combination of white granulated sugar and molasses. Light brown has less molasses in it than dark brown. And you are right: it's great not to have to use a mallet and pick every time you need to bake cookies.

Danette -- Velvet of the forest -- I love that!

A Paperback Writer said...

I've been to Cali enough to know the air feels like home. So does southern Spain.
When I moved home after a year in Scotland, I had nosebleed problems for the first time in my life. My mucous membranes had adjusted to the air in Edinburgh, and it took a couple of months for them to dry out sufficiently.
Oh, and I did know that about brown sugar, but I didn't learn that until AFTER I'd started using the molasses and white sugar because I figured it'd taste the same (it does).

TIV: the individual voice said...

This is a fascinating story of our brainwashing about "weeds" in our "lawn" being bad, when in fact they are the plants that are most suited t grow where they grown. Imposing human control on nature versus appreciating it. I no longer have any "lawn" on my little plot of land. It's all a combination of planted perrenials and volunteers. And moss! Walking barefoot on moss is a sensual pleasure I adore. My backyard is shady and gets some, but too dry to get much. Enjoy!

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- The exact same thing happened to me when I first came back to Southern California after spending years in a moister climate. Every time I go back, I feel it in my nose. As for molasses and white sugar being the same thing as brown sugar, I wish they'd taught us stuff like that in home economics, don't you? We did the stupidest things instead -- totally useless.

TIV -- I agree with you; though I put salt and vinegar on my walkway to keep the weeds down and I pull out really invasive stuff like bishop's mitre and creeping buttercup, I'd far rather have weeds than dump a lot of 2,4-D or glycophosphate on them. I get depressed watching our neighbors drench everything with pesticides and herbicides. They put on far too much; even a dandelion or two sends them running for the stuff, and they refuse to believe that there are cheaper and less poisonous ways to deal with gardening problems.

And cats just love moss...

Carole said...

I love moss too. It is beautiful.

Back in Montana it is much to to dry for pretty moss to grow, but often you have a long stringy black lichen growing from the evergreens. It would make a perfect wig if you wanted to look a bit like Ozzy Ozbourne.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- My father was always stopping our car and getting out to admire some moss or lichen he found hanging from trees or clinging to a rock. He'd have loved that black stuff in Montana.