Road Trip USA: In Savannah, heritage comes in many flavors
SAVANNAH, Ga. — Surely there is no plant as evocative as Spanish moss, no perennial so reflective of the gothic South and all its clammy secrets. How does one look at the shaggy bromeliad — variously nicknamed “old man’s beard,” “graybeard,” “old man’s whiskers” and more — and not think of shadows and swamplands? How does one feel the tiny hairs and not think voodoo and water-slick tombstones, towering columns and Confederate statues, sweet tea and “the exquisite smell of the South,” as novelist Thomas Wolfe once wrote?
The old man’s whiskers tickled our travel trailer as we pulled into our campsite at Georgia’s Skidaway Island State Park, just 15 miles south of Savannah. It draped the live oaks and longleaf pines, the palm trees and the magnolias. It piled up in the road, like hay fallen from the truck. It spread itself like a table runner across our picnic table, whispered Flannery’s most haunting dialogue, lady, there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip. We chose a pull-through campsite cut like an oxbow through the forest, unrolled the patio mat and plugged in the string lights. At dusk, light spilled from our windows and into the forest; the moss formed silhouettes in the blue-black sky.
Spanish moss, of course, is neither Spanish, nor moss. And despite all appearances, it is not parasitic. Like any good tourist, it feeds off the atmosphere itself; not the trees supporting it, but the trees’ detritus, the rain, the dust in the air. My fiancée and I had been to Savannah once before, so our plan this time around was simple: make like Spanish moss and soak it in.
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