Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spanish Moss

If you’ve ever visited southern Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi or Georgia, you have seen Spanish moss eerily flowing from the trees. But what exactly is it?

Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor moss. It belongs to the pineapple family (without the fruit) and is an epiphytic herb (whatever that is). Many people believe that the moss takes its nutrients from the tree, and go to great lengths to have it removed. But unless it is so dense that it blocks the tree from needed sunlight, you don’t have to worry about it harming the tree. The moss just uses the tree as a prop. It can happily grow on fences power lines, or anywhere it can sway in the breeze and catch the moisture in the air.  

This moss has had many uses in the past, as well as the present. When processed and dried, it turns from its soft gray appearance and texture to a black, curly, tough fiber, similar to horse hair. The Native Americans and early settlers used it, among other things, to stuff mattresses or weave it into floor mats, horse blankets, and rope. They used it in house building. The rope was used to tie the framework together, and when mixed with clay, was used as a plaster. No doubt many plantations have it hidden in their walls. My mother told me that my very first crib contained a moss mattress.  

I’ve found contradicting information that moss either contains beware, or that it was used in bedding because it naturally repels insects. This requires further Googling.  

And with everything Louisiana, there has to be a legend attached, right? So here is only one of a few. I’ve seen this poem posted many places, although I’m not sure who to credit it to. 

There’s an old, old legend, that’s whispered with Southern folks
About the lacey Spanish Moss that garlands the great oaks.
A lovely princess and her love, upon their wedding day
Were struck down by a savage foe, amidst a bitter fray;
United in death they were buried, so the legend go
‘Neath an oak’s strong, friendly arms, protected from their foe
There, as was the custom, they cut the bride’s long hair with love
And hung its shining blackness on the spreading oak above;
Untouched, undisturbed it hung there, for all the world to see,
And with the years the locks turned grey and spread from tree to tree.

And what would any novel based in Louisiana be without the mention of Spanish moss. So, here’s a quote from my novel, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island.

As the propeller stirred up smells of rotted seaweed and dead fish, I stared out into the swamp. A cypress tree all draped in silver moss stared back at me like a crooked old woman dipping her hair into the muddy bayou. Its twisted limbs reached out to me. I shuddered.”
Whatever the stories, or whether it’s Spanish or not, I think its beauty is a sight to behold.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Rougarou

While searching for stories about the rougarou, I came across this article by DS Duby and thought I'd share. You can read more of his legend stories at
In my book, The Legend of Ghost Dog Island, ten year old Nikki Landry hears a howling sound coming from a nearby swamp island and wonders if it is the dreaded rougarou her papa has warned her about. What is a rougarou?  Read on...

The Rougarou - Southern Louisiana

The legends of the rougarou, or loup-garou, have been passed down from generation to generation as long as Louisiana has been inhabited by modern man. The rougarou are closely related to the European version of the werewolf, but has a few very distinct differences from the wolf men seen in movies and on television.

Wolves are not native to Louisiana, so many times the beast in the story is replaced with other animals such as dogs, pigs or cattle, and generally appear as being pale white in color. As the story goes, the rougarou will wander the streets at night searching for a savior amongst the crowds of people. It will run through and cause havoc to each individual until somebody eventually shoots or stabs the creature.

With the first drop of blood drawn in the dying blow the beast will then turn back into a man and reveal to its attacker his true name. This legend is said to usually happen within the smallest of towns in Louisiana, because of this the rougarou is often already known by its killer. Before the dying man takes his last breath of life he will warn his savior that he can not mention a word of the incident to anyone for one full year, or he too will suffer the same fate, and become the rougarou.

Parents are often known to spin the tales of the rougarou to children who misbehave, warning them that if they don't straighten up they will be visited by the rougarou in their bed come nightfall. One account tells of a boy who encountered the beast while on his way home from a night out with friends. As the boy was walking along a large white dog was following behind nipping at his heels and antagonizing the boy to attack. Finally out of annoyance and slight anger the boy took out his knife and slashed the dog open, at that point the beast then turned back into a man.
In this case, the rougarou told the boy how he had sold his soul to the devil to gain prosperity, but was tricked by Satan and changed into the beast instead. As the curse seems to demand, he then warned the boy of the penalty of mentioning the events that had taken place, but the boy just couldn't resist.

After repeating the story to several friends the boy started to disappear from his room at night and none of his friends of family could find him anywhere until the following morning, at which point he would appear back in his room with no explanation to where he had been.

This went on for about a year, until one morning his body was found laying in the street. The police claimed it was most likely suicide, but friends and family of the boy knew that there would soon be a new rougarou roaming the streets. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows that no story can be kept secret for long, not even the tale of the rougarou.